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
Add to Briefcase
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 »
TWO MONTHS AFTER REFUSING AT CONVENTION
Cruz to Back Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST
WHO TO BELIEVE?
Two Polls for Clinton, One for Trump
1 days ago
THE LATEST

With three days until the first debate, the polls are coming fast and furious. The latest round:

  • An Associated Press/Gfk poll of registered voters found very few voters committed, with Clin­ton lead­ing Trump, 37% to 29%, and Gary John­son at 7%.
  • A Mc­Clatchy-Mar­ist poll gave Clin­ton a six-point edge, 45% to 39%, in a four-way bal­lot test. Johnson pulls 10% support, with Jill Stein at 4%.
  • Rasmussen, which has drawn criticism for continually showing Donald Trump doing much better than he does in other polls, is at it again. A new survey gives Trump a five-point lead, 44%-39%.
NO SURPRISE
Trump Eschewing Briefing Materials in Debate Prep
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

In contrast to Hillary Clinton's meticulous debate practice sessions, Donald Trump "is largely shun­ning tra­di­tion­al de­bate pre­par­a­tions, but has been watch­ing video of…Clin­ton’s best and worst de­bate mo­ments, look­ing for her vul­ner­ab­il­it­ies.” Trump “has paid only curs­ory at­ten­tion to brief­ing ma­ter­i­als. He has re­fused to use lecterns in mock de­bate ses­sions des­pite the ur­ging of his ad­visers. He prefers spit­balling ideas with his team rather than hon­ing them in­to crisp, two-minute an­swers.”

Source:
TRUMP NO HABLA ESPANOL
Trump Makes No Outreach to Spanish Speakers
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Donald Trump "is on the precipice of becoming the only major-party presidential candidate this century not to reach out to millions of American voters whose dominant, first or just preferred language is Spanish. Trump has not only failed to buy any Spanish-language television or radio ads, he so far has avoided even offering a translation of his website into Spanish, breaking with two decades of bipartisan tradition."

Source:
$1.16 MILLION
Clintons Buy the House Next Door in Chappaqua
1 days ago
WHY WE CARE

Bill and Hillary Clinton have purchased the home next door to their primary residence in tony Chappaqua, New York, for $1.16 million. "By purchasing the new home, the Clinton's now own the entire cul-de-sac at the end of the road in the leafy New York suburb. The purchase makes it easier for the United States Secret Service to protect the former president and possible future commander in chief."

Source:
×