Congressional Black Caucus: Keep Sports Blackout Rule

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have asked the FCC pull the plug on its rulemaking to eliminate the sports blackout rule, which prevents cable and satellite operators from carrying NFL games blacked out on broadcast TV due to insufficient ticket sales.

Broadcasters and the NFL oppose eliminating the rule.

"The elimination of this rule may unnecessarily upend the broadcast television model," the caucus members say, "and limit the availabilty of valuable programming to all Americans.

The FCC voted unanimously last fall to propose eliminating the rule, which serves as a backstop to blackouts negotiated in sports rights contracts. Getting rid of the rule does not prevent such contractual restrictions.

The caucus members say that many of their constituents rely on free, over-the-air TV and they are concerned that getting rid of the rule would undermine the ability of those broadcasters to retain rights to NFL games. The NFL, which opposes the rule, has said the result of scrapping it could be the migration of more sports to pay channels.

"We respectfully ask that you suspend the rulemaking proposal to repeal the Sports Blackout Rule," they said.

Rainbow PUSH founder Jesse Jackson is also a fan of the rule, arguing that getting rid of it could hurt communities of color as both disproportionate consumers of broadcast-only TV, and as in need of the jobs that stadiums provide, often in lower-income areas.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that he plans a vote on getting rid of the rule by early fall.

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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.