FCC votes to do away with sports TV blackout rule

Tue Sep 30, 2014 4:35pm EDT
 
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By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to eliminate a decades-old rule that has prohibited pay-TV providers from airing some home sports games, such as NFL football, if tickets to those games did not sell out.

In a bipartisan 5-0 vote, the FCC did away with a 1975 sports blackout rule that has been backed by the broadcasters and the National Football League but in recent years has faced mounting criticism that it was outdated.

Originally meant to ensure that television broadcasts of sports games did not hurt local ticket sales, the policy has banned cable and satellite providers from carrying sports games in their home markets if a league or a team requires that all or most of the tickets be sold before the game can be shown on TV.

Sports leagues such as the NFL, broadcasters and cable and satellite companies can still privately negotiate blackout agreements. The FCC has said it is often such private agreements, and not the commission's rules, that prompt home game blackouts.

"It is the leagues that control whether sports fans can watch the games they want to watch. ... For 40 years, these teams have hidden behind a rule of the FCC. No more," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"It’s a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games, period."

The NFL on Tuesday said it did not plan to stop free broadcasts of its games in the foreseeable future.

Only two NFL games, or less than 1 percent, were blacked out as a result of the rule last season and none so far this year, according to the NFL. In some instances, businesses helped avoid blackouts by buying blocks of unsold tickets.   Continued...

 
U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before a House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on oversight of the FCC on Capitol Hill in Washington May 20, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst