Sports Fan Coalition Pitches Two-Year Sunset of Sports Blackout Rule


In the wake of the NFL's changes to its own blackout rule, and some team's decision not to take advantage of the relaxed restrictions, the Sports Fans Coalition has renewed its call for ending the FCC's blackout rule.
The FCC rule essentially puts the FCC's force behind a contractural obligation. It prohibits cable and satellite companies from carrying sports contests -- NFL games in particular -- that have been blacked out on broadcast TV due to contractual obligations.

In a letter to the FCC from Brian Frederick, Sports Fan Coalition executive director, the coalition asked the FCC to let the rule expire in two years unless its supporters can provide evidence it is needed.

The NFL owners, in their May meeting, voted to allow teams to set a lower ticket-sales threshold trigger for local TV carriage of a game. The league used to require 100% of non-premium tickets be sold 72 hours before game time, or the game could not be shows on local TV. It has now let teams lower that threshold to as little as 85%. Team response has been mixed, says the coalition.

The coalition says the NFL move demonstrates that one, "the statements by the NFL and others in this proceeding that local blackouts must be maintained to preserve the financial health of the league6 are belied by the NFL's own actions, and two, given the mixed reaction, that it is not clear whether the NFL's change will have any material effect or be "a Trojan Horse in shoulder pads."

For that reason, they argue, the FCC should put an automatic two-year sunset on its rule that will clear it from the books unless the NFL or others can provide evidence that its continuation is in the public interest.

"With a two-year time frame," the coalition said, "the Commission may take into account any effects of the NFL's new blackout policy. If the new policy fails after two years to curtail blackouts in the hardest-hit markets, the Commission can decide at that time whether the Sports Blackout Rule should remain in place."