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The Sports Fan Coalition, joined by Public Knowledge, Media Access Project and others, filed comments Monday in support of its petition to the FCC to scrap its sports blackout rule, which they say is outmoded and fan-unfriendly.
In a filing at the FCC Monday, the coalition and its supporters argued that the rule has been rendered obsolete by the changes in the economics of sports and technology.
"In the name of maintaining the availability of sports, the Commission ironically perpetuates the practice of restricting the availability of games on various video platforms through the Sports Blackout Rule," they argued.
They see the problem as two-fold. The NFL, the main target of the petition, blacks out the local market TV broadcasts of home games that are not sold out 72 hours before kickoff and the FCC's blackout rule prevents cable or satellite operators from filling in that TV void.
"The leagues are at the root of the problem because they currently charge exorbitant prices for tickets, which in turn results in lower attendance," said the coalition. "The leagues then punish fans by blacking out games from television because a few seats remain unsold, under the theory that doing so will help ticket revenues and avoid television images of empty seats."
They also make the point that sports leagues enjoy public subsidies through taxpayer-funded stadiums, infrastructure to get to those stadiums, tax exemptions and more. "The public should be able to watch the games that they helped to finance."
The coalition recognizes that getting rid of the FCC rule would not mean the NFL would have to lift their blackout, but says without the FCC blackout as a "corporate welfare tool to prop up multi-billion dollar operations" it might find that the policy is not in the best interests of anybody, and might also be forced to lower ticket prices to sell out games.
The NFL argues that it is the most broadcast-friendly sports league and that the FCC blackout rule is part of a package of exclusivity rules -- syndex, network non-duplication -- that protects broadcasters.
The FCC is seeking comment on whether to open a rulemaking on the issue, as the coalition has requested.
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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.