FCC Tackles Blackouts of Sporting Events

A view of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome through a fish-eye lense as play was suspended for 34 minutes in the third quarter due to a power outage during Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers at on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans. 
National Journal
Dustin Volz
See more stories about...
Dustin Volz
Nov. 4, 2013, 4:01 p.m.

A policy that has long drawn the ire of sports fans around the coun­try took a hit from the blind side last week, as the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion re­com­men­ded end­ing its dec­ades-old rule black­ing out broad­casts of cer­tain ath­let­ic con­tests.

But the nar­row re­com­mend­a­tion, if ad­op­ted, would do little to end most black­outs in prac­tice, which are gen­er­ally privately ne­go­ti­ated and res­ult from con­tracts brokered between sports leagues and tele­vi­sion net­works that trig­ger a black­out in a loc­al mar­ket when a sports team fails to sell out a game. The rule ap­plies to sev­er­al ma­jor Amer­ic­an sports, most not­ably foot­ball.

Act­ing Chair­wo­man Mignon Cly­burn, in one of her last moves as FCC chief, is­sued a policy pro­pos­al Fri­day seek­ing to elim­in­ate the com­mis­sion’s 40-year-old rules gov­ern­ing sports black­outs.

“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.

“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,” she said. “Nev­er­the­less, if the re­cord in this pro­ceed­ing shows that the rules are no longer jus­ti­fied, the com­mis­sion’s in­volve­ment in this area should end.”

Con­sumer-ad­voc­ate groups and sports fans alike cham­pioned the re­com­mend­a­tion, quelling a loud chor­us of agit­ated black­out op­pos­i­tion al­most as old as the rule it­self. Sens. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz., earli­er this year in­tro­duced the Tele­vi­sion Con­sumer Free­dom Act, which, among oth­er broad­cast re­forms, would have re­quired any sports ven­ue paid for in part with tax­pay­er money to re­peal its black­out re­stric­tions.

But while the pro­pos­al is re­ceiv­ing a warm re­cep­tion, it will do little to end most black­outs.

The FCC, which says it is “rarely in­volved in the sports black­outs you may have ex­per­i­enced,” has ap­plied its nar­row rule since 1975 to block cable and satel­lite net­works from air­ing games in mar­kets where loc­al broad­cast sta­tions have already blacked out a game. Those loc­al broad­cast black­outs will still ex­ist, though cus­tom­ers could po­ten­tially now turn to cable and satel­lite of­fer­ings.

Loc­al sta­tions, however, con­tend that re­mov­ing the FCC rule will un­der­mine their con­tracts with the leagues and price many fans out of the chance to watch their fa­vor­ite teams on TV. The 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,” the Na­tion­al As­so­ci­ation of Broad­casters said in a state­ment.

Ad­vocacy groups, though, say that the trend to­ward paid view­ing is already hap­pen­ing, with or without the FCC rule.

“We’ve seen more and more the NFL and oth­er sports leagues mov­ing to cable net­works where you have to pay to watch them. There’s already com­pet­i­tion go­ing on here for those con­tracts,” said Chris Lewis, vice pres­id­ent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs at Pub­lic Know­ledge. “There’s no reas­on for the FCC to re­in­force the black­out agree­ments.”

The NFL de­clined to com­ment dir­ectly on the policy pro­pos­al.

“We will re­view the pro­pos­al, but it is worth not­ing that there have been no loc­al TV black­outs of home games through the first 133 games of the 2013 sea­son,” NFL spokes­man Bri­an Mc­Carthy said. Fif­teen NFL games were blacked out in 2012.

Tom Wheel­er was sworn in Monday as the new FCC chair­man and prom­ised to “hit the ground run­ning,” while an­noun­cing a dozen seni­or staff ap­point­ments.

What We're Following See More »
BACKING OUT ON BERNIE
Trump Won’t Debate Sanders After All
3 days ago
THE LATEST

Trump, in a statement: “Based on the fact that the Democratic nominating process is totally rigged and Crooked Hillary Clinton and Deborah Wasserman Schultz will not allow Bernie Sanders to win, and now that I am the presumptive Republican nominee, it seems inappropriate that I would debate the second place finisher. ... I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be.”

AKNOWLEDGING THE INEVITABLE
UAW: Time to Unite Behind Hillary
4 days ago
THE DETAILS

"It's about time for unity," said UAW President Dennis Williams. "We're endorsing Hillary Clinton. She's gotten 3 million more votes than Bernie, a million more votes than Donald Trump. She's our nominee." He called Sanders "a great friend of the UAW" while saying Trump "does not support the economic security of UAW families." Some 28 percent of UAW members indicated their support for Trump in an internal survey.

Source:
AP KEEPING COUNT
Trump Clinches Enough Delegates for the Nomination
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Donald Trump on Thursday reached the number of delegates needed to clinch the Republican nomination for president, completing an unlikely rise that has upended the political landscape and sets the stage for a bitter fall campaign. Trump was put over the top in the Associated Press delegate count by a small number of the party's unbound delegates who told the AP they would support him at the convention."

Source:
TRUMP FLOATED IDEA ON JIMMY KIMMEL’S SHOW
Trump/Sanders Debate Before California Primary?
4 days ago
THE LATEST
CAMPAIGNS INJECTED NEW AD MONEY
California: It’s Not Over Yet
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"Clinton and Bernie Sanders "are now devoting additional money to television advertising. A day after Sanders announced a new ad buy of less than $2 million in the state, Clinton announced her own television campaign. Ads featuring actor Morgan Freeman as well as labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta will air beginning on Fridayin Fresno, Sacramento, and Los Angeles media markets. Some ads will also target Latino voters and Asian American voters. The total value of the buy is about six figures according to the Clinton campaign." Meanwhile, a new poll shows Sanders within the margin of error, trailing Clinton 44%-46%.

Source:
×