NFL, NAB Team To Defend Sports Blackout Rule

The National Football League, with the support of CBS, Fox and the National Association of Broadcasters, has launched a Web site,, to push back against the FCC's proposal to drop its sports blackout rule.

FCC rules prevent cable and satellite operators from importing distant TV station signals carrying an NFL game that has been blacked out on broadcast TV in a local market due to insufficient ticket sales.

The leagues can still write such blackouts into their media rights contracts, but the rule provides a legal backstop.

"While every other professional sports service has moved to pay services like cable or satellite," says the site, "the NFL makes every regular-season and playoff game available to you for free," the site points out, saying scrapping the  rule will threaten free TV and weaken local economies.

The site claims that pay TV has "manufactured" the controversy, and adds that "we cannot let these special interests dictate what is best for the NFL fans."

The site is looking to generate some social media buzz in support of the rule, asking web surfers to take action by sharing the site on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

The FCC voted Dec. 17, 2013, in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to eliminate the rules.

That move came as changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether it is in the public interest to maintain the blackout, particularly at the current price of a ticket and the state of the economy, which was former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn's argument for teeing up the item for a vote during her busy tenure.

Just two weeks ago, the Conference of State Legislatures wrote the FCC to ask it not to eliminate the rule, making the points about the boost to local economies from a full stadium.

NBC Sports reported Monday on the new Web site.

"This is [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell's Hail Mary pass," said David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition, which petitioned the FCC to get rid of the rules. "It's fourth quarter, he has no more time outs and is losing big, so he throws this awkward pass up there but here's his problem: Economists already have proven on the record that the NFL's blackout policy and the FCC's rule maybe only increase ticket sales by a few thousand, while broadcast games reach millions of fans and earn the league millions of dollars. So is Goodell really going to walk away from all that money, just to prove a point? No. This Hail Mary will land with a thud and fans will win this game."

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.