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FCC Puts Petition Seeking Elimination of Sports Blackout Rule Out for Public Comment

The FCC is seeking public comment on a petition seeking to eliminate the sports blackout rules, which prohibit MVPDs from carrying a sporting event that is blacked out on local broadcast TV.

The petitioners say the rules block consumers' access to local sports events and argue that sports leagues "could privately negotiate the same results that the rule affords, and therefore the Commission's rules, which tacitly endorse these private contracts, are unnecessary," the FCC pointed out in announcing the comment dates for the petition.   

The petition was filed by the Sports Fan Coalition, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, National Consumers League, and League of Fans.

"This is the biggest organized effort in decades to put an end to the federal government's support for anti-consumer blackouts," Sports Fans Coalition executive director Brian Frederick said in November, when the petition was filed. "It is ridiculous that the leagues continue to black out games from their own fans after taking in massive public subsidies, during such difficult economic times, and even more ridiculous that the federal government props up this practice through the Sports Blackout Rule." 

Commenters will have until Feb. 13 to weigh in, with reply comments due Feb. 28.

In comments in the FCC's retransmission consent proceeding last June, the NFL told the FCC to leave the rule alone, in that case in response to calls, including from the Sports Fan Coalition, for waiving it during retrans impasses.
"I am delighted that the Media Bureau is requesting comment on a petition seeking elimination of the Commission's rules that prohibit multichannel video programming distributors from carrying a sporting event in a community if it is blacked out by the local broadcast station," said FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell in a statement. "Taking a fresh look at this 36-year-old rule could be constructive as we look for rules to streamline and modernize. Over almost four decades, the economics and structure of both the sports and communications industries have experienced dramatic evolutions. We now live in a world with not only local broadcast stations, but also cable, satellite, the Internet and wireless, and where television and merchandizing revenues exceed ticket sales. It is appropriate for us to re-examine the rule in light of marketplace changes."