FCC proposes an end to NFL TV blackout rule

Empty Stands NFL

It’s happened to most of us at some point. You want to watch your favorite team play, but its game is blacked out on TV locally because the franchise hasn’t sold out the game. Well those days could be coming to an end if the Federal Communications Commission has its way.

On Friday the FCC proposed eliminating the rule that requires a sellout in order for the home team to broadcast its game in its local market. Jerry Zremski of the Buffalo News was the first to report on the proposal.

Here is what Mignon L. Clyburn, the acting chairwoman of the FCC had to say about the rule:

Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games.

Zremski correctly notes that there could be some serious bumps in the road for eliminating the rule. Obviously there would need to be some time for a public debate to be held about it. And even if the FCC officially eliminates the rule, sports leagues, broadcast networks, cable and satellite providers could all privately negotiate their own deals to black out certain events in individual markets.

So in short, don’t expect any changes this season, but they could be coming. That means home teams could be seen on local TV regardless of ticket sales.

The FCC’s push to eliminate the rule will put a lot of pressure on the NFL to change its policy, or at least ease it. If the league doesn’t eliminate the rule, it could reduce the ticket sales requirement, to say 80 percent of capacity before allowing a game to be broadcast. That’s just an example, and I have no idea if the league actually entertain that kind of compromise, but it does seem logical.

For the record, there have been no local TV blackouts of NFL home games through the first 133 games of the 2013 season.


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