NFL Site Blitzes FCC With Comments

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WASHINGTON — The National Football League’s push to get the Federal Communications Commission to preserve sports-blackout rules has gotten some traction, at least with NFL fans visiting a website that makes it easy to flood the agency with email comments.

The email also takes a shot at multichannel video providers, branding the rule change as a chance for companies to line their pockets at fans’ expense.

FCC rules prevent cable and satellite operators from importing distant TV-station signals carrying an NFL game that has been blacked out on broadcast TV in a local market due to insufficient ticket sales.

The leagues can still write such blackouts into their media contracts, but the rule provides a legal backstop, particularly for the NFL, whose games have mostly not migrated to pay TV. Last month, former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann took to WXYZ-TV Detroit’s airwaves to defend the blackout rules and plug a new NFL-backed website.

Swann said the rules help keep NFL games on free TV. “Lynn Swann might know how to play football, but he doesn’t seem to know how many fans hate blackouts or how many economists have proven that getting rid of the sports blackout rule won’t take games off broadcast TV,” former Dish Network lobbyist David Goodfriend said. “The NFL has lost this debate and should keep the astroturf in stadiums, not the FCC.” Goodfriend is a board member of the Sports Fans Coalition, which petitioned the FCC to lift the rules.

In a letter dated Monday (July 28), Swann told the FCC he had submitted more than 6,700 comments from fans who say they want the rules kept in place.

Separately, the FCC has posted almost 6,000 comments in three large files, all with the identical message to one on the NFL site’s “Take Action” email template. That template has a default recipient list including all the FCC commissioners, as well as the sender’s House member and senators. A ZIP code is required for access.

The form letter says: “I object to the cable and satellite company lobbyists who are trying to change the rules in order to charge exorbitant fees for football games that I can watch right now for free on local television.”

The pushback dovetails with the ramping up of anti-pay TV rhetoric in the ongoing battle over retransmission consent. A cable lobbyist speaking on background said almost none of those lobbyists are fighting the move since the NFL can still enforce blackouts contractually. “The NFL’s manufactured letter conveniently ignores that fans, not lobbyists, have driven the effort to end government subsidization of blackouts,” another lobbyist said on background.

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