Super Bowl

FCC Thumbs Nose at NFL, Votes Unanimously to End Protectionist Sports Blackout Rule


credit: Ed Yourdon / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

The Federal Communications Commission's support for sports broadcast blackouts is about to become a thing of the past: The agency's commissioners voted 5-0 today to end the blackout policy the agency has had in place since 1975. 

The policy is an explicit form of protectionism for big-league sports teams: Basically, as The Washington Post notes, it says that if a game doesn't fill every stadium seat, then it's off limits for broadcast TV, which means cable provider that rely on those broadcast streams can't really carry it either.

The rule cover all pro sports, but mostly ends up benefiting the National Football League, which has lobbied extensively to keep the policy in place. The league's argument for the rule, that it's necessary to "protect football on free TV," is pretty transparently a self-serving cover for protectionist policies designed to maximize stadium revenues. As The Hill reported last month, "The league argues the rule helps teams sell tickets and creates a compelling stadium atmosphere, allowing the NFL to keep games on free television." 

The FCC's vote today was a rebuke to the idea that helping teams sell tickets is somehow part of the FCC's job: "It is not the FCC's role to make sure the NFL gets [the] last nickel out of every game played," agency commissioner Michael O'Riley said, according to The Washington Examiner.

In a USA Today op-ed, Chairman Tom Wheeler called the rules "a bad hangover from the days when barely 40 percent of games sold out," and declared that "the NFL should no longer be able to hide behind government rules that punish loyal fans." 

"It's a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games—period," Wheeler said after the vote today, reports Politico.

The NFL will still be able to black out some games without agency help, however, by making private deals. 

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  1. Did the FCC board end up blacked out of a game? Or did they not get complementary box seats?

    1. Yes, why now? Why not decades ago? How does this serve the political and carnal desires of the commission and the administration?

  2. My momma says foozeball is the devil.

  3. The NFL will still be able to blackout some games without agency help, however, by making private deals.

    WHAT?!?!?! UNPOSSIBLE!!! You can’t do anything without government force?!?!?!


  4. It is not the FCC’s role to make sure the NFL gets [the] last nickel out of every game played

    But EVERY OTHER way that the government props up rent-seekers, those are all still fine, right?

  5. “It’s a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games?period,” Wheeler said after the vote today

    Is this real life? I feel like a major blow for Libertopia has been struck.

    1. You know you’re making really bad assumptions when you think like that. Starting with the premise that these people would never reduce their power without a reason, why would they do this?

      Some theories:

      * Jumping on the anti-NFL bandwagon.
      * Hoping that doing something popular will help save the Senate for the Democrats.
      * Some other interest group has more influence than the NFL on the commission, like TV networks or something.

      1. Oh, I know. I’m wondering what other executive agency the FCC is trying to screw by doing this.

        1. I understand that the FCC is blood enemies of the FAA, because people sometimes confuse the agencies with one another.

    2. Major blow no, but nice to see they ruled this way.*

      SLD the government should not have agencies that makes these rules.

    3. Is this real life?

      Is this just fantasy?
      Caught in a landslide,
      No escape from reality.

    4. The games are the league’s private property.

      Rather a fascistic decision.

      And it’s the new rules that punish the loyal fans, those being the ones that go to the games.

      1. Yes, it’s a fascist decision to allow the NFL’s broadcast partners to run the games they would have ran anyway if this rule wasn’t in place.

        The league is still within its rights to force the broadcasters to blackout non-sellouts as a condition of their agreements, it’s just that now the FCC is no longer requiring they do so.

  6. …the NFL should no longer be able to hide behind government rules that punish loyal fans.

    Can this philosophy be extended to other businesses that use regulations to bolster their profits at the expense of consumer choice?

  7. So will I now be able to watch Jets games on the West coast?

    1. You don’t understand blackouts.

      1. Probably not. So will I get the Jets games or not?

        1. Are those actually broadcast in the first place?

        2. Only if the Seahawks host and fail to sell out.

          1. Well, that’s not going to happen.

          2. I meant anywhere. I mean, the Jets don’t have fans, right?

            1. We’re like the Browns: it’s tough to tell we’re here because we all hate the team more than our rivals’ fans do.

        3. Probably not.

          But they do, and they’re the ones blacking it out.

    2. I’m very sorry, but I’m afraid you will.

  8. No commentary yet about the penalty for “praying like a muslim in the end zone” at last night’s game? At least Goodell was quick to backtrack on that one…

    1. So, its a penalty to genuflect in the Christian manner, but not the Muslim? I didn’t want, but I don’t understand.

    2. Didn’t watch the game since I don’t give two shits about the Chiefs or the Patriots. Was a player really penalized for “praying like a muslim” or was it part of the No Fun Leaugue’s general crack down on end zone celebrations?

      1. The player in question, Husain Abdullah, intercepted and returned the ball for a touchdown. he slid on his knees, and then bowed to Mecca. The player thinks it was actually the slide that got the penalty. The NFL has since said that it should not have been a penalty.

        1. OK. The player’s probably right. I doubt very seriously that the ref thought “That damn dirty mooslim heathen, why can’t he just go down to one knee and ‘Tebow’ like a good ‘murican!” No Fun League strikes again.

      2. The way the commentators put it, there is a blanket prohibition against celebrating on your knees. I don’t know if the flag came before or after he bowed from that position. I don’t even know if he was facing Mecca at the time. He probably was, as the cameras are usually on the south side of stadiums, and he was going left to right on our radio dial.

        1. blanket prohibition against celebrating on your knees.

          Seems like a weird rule. I can somewhat understand their crackdown on “dunking” over the goal post (although I don’t think there’s been a case of a player actually damaging one, but that’s the official reason for it, and it’s at least somewhat in the realm of possibility), but why a rule against celebrating on your knees? Was that a reaction to “Tebowing”?

          1. although I don’t think there’s been a case of a player actually damaging one,

            It happened during a falcons game once. They delayed the game about 15 minutes while they adjusted the cross bar.

          2. The actual rule is against going to the ground in celebration. Deondre Hopkins of the Texans got flagged for it on Sunday for doing some type of flopping fish dance. In practice, it is not enforced against players who kneel in prayer, so the NFL is now saying he shouldn’t have been penalized. Probably won’t ever be an issue again, I don’t anticipate Abdullah scoring many more touchdowns in his career.

            Oh, and Jimmy Graham got the dunk rule made by fucking up a goal post with a dunk last year, which caused a game delay. I think it wasn’t too hard to fix, but they outlawed it as a result.

    3. Husain Abdullah intercepting a pass – no, wait – Husain Abdullah making a play on the ball is a miracle in and of itself.

      I’m talking about a major enough miracle to make me rethink my non-belief in any deity.

      Fuck, he tormented me for years as a Vike.

  9. If only MLB would stop blacking out local games on, then everything would be perfect.

  10. Since they moved the Rockies to pay cable, they’ve been effectively blacked out. I mean, who would PAY to watch them lose on tv?

  11. I have to assume that, if the NFL has a problem with selling out that they think blackouts will help, they will simply put blackout conditions in their network contracts. Duh. No, really, duh. Coase strikes again.

    Why was the FCC ever involved? Were the mid-70’s some sort of dystopian horrorscape where people stopped believing markets worked? Yes, I know the answer is yes. It’s still startling to remember that we were all Keynesians once.

    1. The problem the NFL faces is that the television product is significantly more enjoyable than the in-person product, and they know it.

      1. Then they should charge more for the television product and impose blackout restrictions in the contract.

        No FCC required — something the FCC should be used to hearing by now.

        1. Well…contracts are negotiated. The TV networks would love to do away with blackouts.

          1. And the networks are peeing themselves in order to get those contracts — so much so that the NFL has finally realized how stupid they were to try to build a vertical monopoly that televises their own games.

            Regardless, blackouts these days are rare and to be found generally in smaller markets. They aren’t that much of a loss in the grand scheme of things.

            1. Well, sort of. It seems here in the Bay Area that since the Raiders don’t sell out, we don’t get to see any other AFC west game that’s in the same time slot. This was a large driver in my getting NFL sunday ticket.

          2. TV stations could give away tickets for free or at a discount to fill the stadium?

  12. There’s a severe lack of understanding of the history of the blackout rule.

    Back in the early 70s, no home games of local NFL teams were broadcast. The apocryphal story is some Congressman couldn’t get tickets to a Redskins game and since it wasn’t on TV he couldn’t watch it either.

    So in 1973 Congress passed the up with the rule “forcing” the teams to broadcast the game locally, if the it was a sellout 72 hours before kickoff.

    1. I lived in Dallas in the early 70’s and I never missed a Cowboys game. In the late sixties I was trapped in Houston for 4 years and I watched Oilers games. I lived in Denver in 1970 and I watched Broncos games. I think you’ve got your history wrong.

      1. No one got to watch NFL home games in the 1960’s — they were blacked out within a 75-mile radius of the stadium to “protect” home attendance, even though baseball had long ago proven that televising games was the best way to create fans. Even the first seven Super Bowls weren’t televised in the city where the game was being played, even though no team that played in any of those host cities was involved in the game. Granted, there were far more baseball home games than football home games — only seven per year per NFL team in those days — but blackouts of Bears games on Chicago TV stations in the 1960’s sent fans to Milwaukee, Rockford and South Bend motels (all only a short distance outside the 75-mile range) to watch games on those cities’ CBS stations (CBS had NFL, and later, NFC rights through 1993). Motels in those areas, particularly in South Bend, ran ads in Chicago newspapers promoting special Sunday rates for people to get rooms specifically to watch Bears games.

        Even after the NFL-AFL merger was consummated in 1970, commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to lift local TV blackouts. As late as December 1972, Rozelle said, “We feel it is enough to bring the fan his seven road games for his home team and bring him other games when his team is at home,” adding that “even the possibility that a game might be televised could hurt ticket sales.”…..-blackouts

        1. This…I recall for a late 60’s Vikings game my Dad packed me and my 5 siblings into the car and driving 70 miles to rent a room. It was a playoff game vs the Browns. Not hard to remeber because we never stayed in motels, it was either stay with relatives or camped because with a lot of mouths to feed we didn’t spend much money on non essentials.

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