Policy & Law
Last month, the FCC sent out a proposal that would investigate whether or not the commission could dismantle its 40-year-old sports broadcast blackout rules, and now it has publicly released its full notice of proposed rulemaking. In it, the FCC says that it officially wants to eliminate its sports blackout restrictions. In its investigation, the FCC discovered that "television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the most significant source of revenue for NFL clubs" in the years since its blackout rules went into effect.
The FCC's blackouts only block national cable and satellite networks from showing a sporting event that's been blacked out on local broadcast stations — a situation that used to be more commonplace. The NFL's own rules prohibit local broadcasters from carrying a game that hasn't been completely sold out at least 72 hours before kickoff. If a cable or satellite network tried to carry that same game, the FCC's rules would black it out, as well. However, since the FCC has found that TV revenue is the main income driver for the NFL — and also that blackouts have no direct link to increased attendance at NFL games — the commission believes it can set its old rules aside.
This proposed change wouldn't really affect blackouts for other sports, as the other professional leagues have their TV rights sold by the individual teams rather than the league as a whole. And unfortunately, the majority of blackouts will continue for the time being. FCC commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn said back in November that "elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events."
As such, blackouts that prevent local viewers from watching a game on a national network when it's being simultaneously shown on a local station would still continue. Still, this could be a first step towards easing back rules that make it harder for sports fans to tune in and catch their favorite team — the FCC is soliciting comments on its proposal to determine if its suggestion is actually feasible, but there won't be any official change until sometime next year.
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