from the game-time dept
What you may not know is that the leagues have had a federal partner in blacking out games for quite a while in the FCC. While the NFL is really the only league left that is bothering with blackout rules, they've now lost that partner as the FCC has unanimously voted to repeal its support for sports blackouts.
Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 to repeal the sports blackout rule. Currently, the NFL will not allow broadcasters in a team’s home market to air games that have not sold out. This unfriendly practice is a matter of private contract between the league and the broadcasters, restricting what a sports fan can watch in the process. The FCC’s sports blackout rule prevented cable systems from carrying those games, as well. Although the repeal of the sports blackout rule is no guarantee that cable viewers will be able to see blacked-out games, now the NFL will have to arrange for blackouts solely through private contracting. The rule applies to any sports league, but only the NFL currently blacks-out games on local broadcast.This, believe it or not, is an important step. Not because it represents any dramatic shift in televising games in and of itself, but because it's the beginning of the lift on blackout restrictions in general. Television blackouts due to attendance are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to blackouts in general, but if this starts building momentum such that the growing masses of cable-cutters can finally get local sports games with their internet packages somewhere down the road, it's a big deal. Because, as I've argued before, the only dam holding back an overflowing river of cable-cutters is professional and college sports. Take that away and the river runs wild.
This FCC vote, by the way, comes at the behest of a petition from Public Knowledge.
The vote follows a petition Public Knowledge filed with its allies that argued the FCC should end this archaic rule as an unnecessary intervention in the marketplace on behalf of the NFL, one of the most powerful sports leagues in the world. The following statement can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge:To be clear, local broadcasts can still be blacked out by the NFL, but that won't last much longer. Already there are rumblings from the NFL that indicate they realize that their product is far better consumed on television, and that fantasy football is pushing a larger consumption of multiple games throughout a day, rather than driving dedicated fans to a single stadium for the day. Good on the FCC for getting this right, even though they probably should have made this move a few decades ago.
“We’re pleased that our petition, the voices of sports fans and TV viewers, and the evidence has persuaded the FCC to act on the public’s behalf. Private parties should not be able to use government regulations as an excuse to limit fans’ access to their local teams."