McCain: Near-Blackouts Argue for FANS Act

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) used the weekend's NFL wild card game blackout threats to push for his bill introduced last month, the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act, that would remove the antitrust exemption for any sports league that does not prohibit or limit sports blackouts in their video contracts, including during retransmission consent impasses.

In a statement released not long after the last of three threatened blackouts was resolved Jan. 3 after businesses bought up the remaining tickets, McCain called for action on his bill.

“The potential local television blackout of NFL playoff games this weekend in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Green Bay–only narrowly averted, according to news reports–should serve as an example to all sports fans of how poorly many rules and regulations are serving consumers and taxpayers today," McCain said.

The NFL prevents the TV broadcast of any game not sold out 72 hours before game time, which has not happened in a playoff game in over a decade. The FCC also has a rule backstopping the league that prevents cable or satellite operators from airing a game blacked out on broadcast TV, though it has proposed eliminating that rule and leaving blackouts to private negotiations among rightsholders and distributors

"The fact is that the NFL in particular enjoys numerous benefits paid for by tax-paying consumers, through antitrust exemptions, tax exemptions and publicly-financed stadium construction," McCain said in his statement last Friday. "Consumers should be the beneficiaries of these arrangements, yet this episode shows that is not the case. The original aim of the league’s blackout policy is no longer logical in today's marketplace. For these reasons, I, along with Senator Richard Blumenthal [D-Conn.], recently introduced legislation aimed at leveling the playing-field among professional leagues, broadcasters and sports fans. With this week’s near-blackouts in three NFL cities, I renew my call for that bill’s full, fair and timely consideration in the Senate.”

McCain and Blumenthal were tapped as MVP's (most valuable policymakers) by the Sports Fans Coalition, which has pushed the FCC to get rid of its blackout rules and the NFL to get rid of its blackout policy. Unlike the FCC, the league has said it has no plans to end its blackout policy, and signaled last week it would not waive the blackouts in the three wild card cities if the seats were not filled.

Ultimately, Krogers stores and P&G and others bought up the tickets and prevented the blackouts, getting earned media coverage and plaudits from local fans for the effort.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.