FCC Unanimously Votes to Repeal the Sports Blackout Rule

The Federal Communications Commission voted to eliminate its sports blackout rule yesterday. For nearly four decades, the blackout rule has prevented cable and satellite systems from broadcasting certain National Football League games. The unanimous decision will result in the repeal of the blackout rule, which should take about six weeks to be finalized. The NFL opposed the FCC action, arguing that eliminating the rule would impact the availability of games via free, over-the-air television.

NFL_LogoThe FCC countered that endangering the availability on free TV was unlikely, especially since the NFL broadcast contract extends through 2022.

“It is not the place of the federal government to intervene in the private marketplace and help sports leagues enforce their blackout policies,” suggested Ajit Pai, one of the FCC commissioners. “It is the commission’s job to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners.”

“The move is unlikely to eliminate the league’s attempts to black out games, which it can do on local broadcast channels when tickets to a game are not sold out,” reports The New York Times. “Because of the sport’s soaring popularity, however, only two NFL games were blacked out locally last season.”

The NFL initially instituted the blackout rule to help encourage fans to attend games, but television rights contribute a majority of teams’ revenue today.

“The NFL, under its agreement with broadcast networks, will still be able to black out a game on broadcast TV,” explains NYT. “But because of the FCC vote, a cable provider could show a blacked-out game in a market where the broadcast version is blocked.”