Rev. Jackson: Blackout Rule Is About Paychecks, Not Just Pay TV

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is the latest fan of the sports blackout rule to write FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler about keeping the rule. Jackson argues the issue is about backs and hands, not just eyeballs, and paychecks, not just pay TV.

In his letter, Jackson pointed to the employment full stadiums provide, often in urban areas where unemployment is high. He said Rainbow PUSH — Jackson is the founder — has experience in monitoring how large sports franchises can boost jobs and economic development.

The blackout rule prevents cable and satellite operators from importing games that have been blacked out due to unsold seats in the stadium. The NFL writes the blackouts into their TV contracts to try to make sure the seats in the stands are filled before the ones in front of the TV. Getting rid of the rule would not prevent contractual blackouts.

The FCC commissioners have already tentatively voted to scrap the blackout rule, and Wheeler wants to vote the final item by early fall.

But Jackson says in his letter that while some argue eliminating the rule is simply adjusting to an "expanding video climate," free, over-the-air TV viewers "should not bear the brunt of the harm, and stadiums should not be robbed of their value, especially in communities with some of the greatest economic needs.”

In letters to Wheeler, TV stations have made the point that over-the-air-only viewers are disproportionately elderly, minority and lower income.

"Established nearly 40 years ago, the FCC’s sports blackout rule has ensured that professional sports can be viewed for free over the public airwaves, benefitting those without pay television options or Internet access," said Jackson. "The sports blackout rule has also contributed to fully leased stadiums that, in turn, boost local jobs and revenues for those living and selling within the surrounding communities.

He advised Wheeler to "think carefully" about the rules impact. Jackson conceded that the rule appears to be "outdated in the current ecosystem," "we submit that there could be a disproportionate impact on the communities and residents that seek to work, and not simply watch an athletic event."

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.