FCC repeals sports TV blackout rule

Tuesday September 30th, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission has voted unanimously to end the so-called "blackout rule" that has prohibited many professional sports games from being shown on television.

The rule, implemented in 1975, effectively said that games that didn't sell out couldn't be shown on broadcast TV, including satellite and cable providers in local markets. It was designed to ensure television broadcasts of games didn't impede on paid attendance.

The FCC had argued that the rule was outdated since broadcast and television rights fees now constitute the majority of the NFL's revenue.

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Though the FCC has abolished the policy, the NFL could continue to black out games if it so chooses per its own rules.

“This is a historic day for sports fans,” Sports Fans Coalition chairman David Goodriend said in a release. “Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL’s obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today’s FCC action makes clear:  if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help.”

In August, the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter to the FCC arguing that the the blackout rule should be kept in place, saying the fact 99 percent of NFL games in 2013 weren't blacked out shows the rule works. From the letter: 

"Without this rule in place," the lawmakers wrote, "cable and satellite television providers would potentially be able to undermine contractual agreements between professional sports leagues and broadcast networks that both support attendance at games and improve the viewing experience for fans in the stadium, as well as those watching at home."

The NFLPA and the AFL-CIO also reportedly supported the blackout rule.

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The FCC began publicly campaigning for the end of the blackout rule in August.

- Chris Johnson

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