Tags: NFL | blackout | cable TV | football

FCC Chairman: It's Time to Sack NFL's TV Blackout Regulations

Image: FCC Chairman: It's Time to Sack NFL's TV Blackout Regulations
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 02:08 PM

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is calling for an end to TV blackout rules, saying they are outdated and hurt loyal football fans.

He has sent a proposal to his fellow commissioners asking them to support his attempt to dump the FCC’s blackout regulations drawn up four decades ago — and they plan to vote on it at the end of the month.

In an opinion piece for USA Today, Wheeler says that in 1975 the FCC passed regulations to prevent cable TV companies from showing a game that had been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out.

At the time, the rules were aimed at strengthening the National Football League’s own blackout policy, the chairman explained.

"Today, the rules make no sense at all," said Wheeler, adding that the blackouts are a "bad hangover" from the days when only 40 percent of the games were sold out, and ticket sales were the main source of NFL revenues. "Last weekend, every single game was sold out."

He pointed out that pro football is now the "most popular content" on television, and that NFL games dominated last week's ratings.

"With the NFL's incredible popularity, it's not surprising that last year the league made $10 billion in revenue, and only two games were blacked out."

Wheeler said the "most egregious case" last season was when the Green Bay Packers were due to play in minus 15 degrees. But the playoff game was not sold out because fans were unwilling to sit in bone-chilling weather for three hours.

"Local Packer fans were effectively told that if more people didn't buy tickets to go freeze, the rest of the community wouldn't be able to watch the game on TV," wrote Wheeler, noting that local businesses ended up buying blocks of seats so the game was officially sold out.

"Today, we are blowing the whistle on this anti-fan practice," he said. "The NFL should no longer be able to hide behind government rules that punish loyal fans, which is why I am sending to my fellow commissioners a proposal to get rid of the FCC's blackout rules once and for all.

"The league is loudly opposing this effort. They claim that the system is 'working,' and the FCC shouldn't disrupt America's most popular sports league. Believe it or not, the league is actually arguing that it's fighting to preserve the FCC's sports blackout rules for the sake of the fans.

"It says that removing the commission's rules could mean the end of pro football on free over-the-air television and is threatening to move its games to pay services like cable and satellite. It claims this would particularly hurt low-income Americans who disproportionately rely on broadcast television.

"If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity."

Wheeler concluded by saying, "The bottom line is the NFL no longer needs the government's help to remain viable. And we at the FCC shouldn't be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It's time to sack the sports blackout rules for good."

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is calling for an end to TV blackout rules, saying they are outdated and hurt loyal football fans.
NFL, blackout, cable TV, football
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2014-08-09
Tuesday, 09 Sep 2014 02:08 PM
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