The Federal Communications Commission wants to scrap the 40 year old sports-blackout rule, which prohibits pay-TV operators from showing NFL or other pro games that are blacked out on local TV outlets due to low ticket sales.
The proposal would not affect the blackout rule for local broadcasters, nor would it affect voluntary agreements between sports leagues and TV providers. The potential change was proposed by acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, who will be replaced this week by recently confirmed chief Tom Wheeler.
However, there is a lot of confusion about the blackout rule, how it works and what its removal would mean for both fans and the media.
In the past, TV broadcast rights holders have been restricted by clauses that prohibit them from showing a sporting event if the game is not sold out.
The FCC's rule prohibits a cable or satellite operator from maneuvering around the agreements between sports leagues and TV stations by importing a distant signal of a game that should be blacked out.
It bans Dish Network from importing the signal of a local game from elsewhere and showing it in the local market.
Abolishing the blackout rule wouldn't mean the local station could suddenly show a game that wasn't sold out as that would violate the station's agreement with the league. It does mean that a pay-TV distributor could show it no matter how upset the league or local rights holder becomes.
The blackout provisions are in all sports contracts, but usually apply only to broadcast television and not cable TV. With most basketball, hockey and baseball games airing on cable, the blackout provision applies to the NFL a majority of the time.
Last year, only 6% of games were blacked out and this season none of the 133 games of the 2013 season have been blacked out. Fewer black outs are due to the NFL softening the definition of a “sellout,” allowing teams to sell only 85 percent of all non-premium tickets in order to lift the local blackout.
According to the FCC, it is often private agreements, and not the commission's rules, that prompt home game blackouts.
Earlier this year, Senator John McCain introduced legislation that would block blackouts in stadiums that were funded in whole or in part by taxpayer dollars.
Mignon Clyburn said the reason for the proposed change is "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."
Do you think the black out rule should be abolished? How will this affect TV ratings?
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