FCC Proposes End To Sports Blackout Rule
FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn late Friday announced that she has circulated a notice of proposed rulemaking to eliminate the commission’s sports blackout rules.
The sports blackout rules, which have been on the agency’s books for almost 40 years, clear the way for the NFL to black out local TV broadcasts of local NFL games when it appears that the local stadium won’t sell out.
“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,” Clyburn said in a statement. “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.”
“Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the commission’s involvement in this area should end,” she said.
The National Association of Broadcasters opposed her plan, contending that it would hurt local broadcasters and their viewers and be a boon to pay TV.
“The games that previously would be blacked out for everybody will be imported by cable or satellite and will only be available to pay TV viewers,” said Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, in an interview. “This completely undermines localism.”
"Sports blackouts are exceedingly rare, and NAB dislikes these disruptions as much as our viewers," Wharton also said. "However, we're concerned that today's proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community."
Clyburn’s announcement could be one of her last as the agency’s top commissioner because Tom Wheeler is expected to step in as chairman on Monday.
Even assuming a majority of the FCC's commissioners approve of Clyburn's plan, the public and industry will still have an opportunity to comment before the agency can take final action on the rule.