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 »
STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
CITIZENS UNITED PT. 2?
Movie Based on ‘Clinton Cash’ to Debut at Cannes
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

The team behind the bestselling "Clinton Cash"—author Peter Schweizer and Breitbart's Stephen Bannon—is turning the book into a movie that will have its U.S. premiere just before the Democratic National Convention this summer. The film will get its global debut "next month in Cannes, France, during the Cannes Film Festival. (The movie is not a part of the festival, but will be shown at a screening arranged for distributors)." Bloomberg has a trailer up, pointing out that it's "less Ken Burns than Jerry Bruckheimer, featuring blood-drenched money, radical madrassas, and ominous footage of the Clintons."

Source:
×