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FCC Blackout Rule Update: Unanimous Decision

The FCC unanimously voted to end the 40 year old FCC rules, backing game blackouts for the NFL.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

What it means. The NFL is on it's own, if it should chose to blackout games in local markets. Yes they still have the power to control whether or not you can view games in your market, but the Federal Government will no longer be a party to this.

The NFL hid behind the FCC rule 40 years to justify blacking out games, when Stadiums are not sold out. They would like you to believe that blackouts are a  rare occurrence, but in recent years they have increased due to the sluggish economy. Unemployment is up in several key venues as a result of the economic downturn, and many who are unemployed, are even underemployed, have to chose more important obligations over attending games.

Press Releases:


For Immediate Release:

September 30, 2014

Contact: Josh Zembik (DC) - 202-224-6452
Elizabeth Benton (CT) - 860-729-3589


(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today released the following statement after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously to eliminate the federal sports blackout rule.

"The sports blackout rule unfairly harms consumers by punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations," said Senator Blumenthal. "The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic. Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions. Today the FCC officially threw a flag on the NFL's anti-fan blackout policy."

Blumenthal and Higgins - along with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) - introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act of 2013 - complementary legislation that would remove the NFL's antitrust exemptions, unless the league ends its practice of requiring broadcasters to blackout games that don't sell out.


Sports Fans Cheer FCC's Unanimous Vote to End the Sports Blackout RuleElimination of Rule Signals End of an Era for Government Support of Leagues' Anti-Fan Policies

Contact:          David Goodfriend, Chairman
(202) 549-5612

WASHINGTON, D.C., September 30, 2014 - Following years of pressure from Sports Fans Coalition, along with support from other consumer advocacy groups, Members of Congress, and thousands of sports fans, the Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to end its 40-year-old Sports Blackout Rule. Under the rule, whenever a sports league ordered a local broadcaster not to televise a game due to unsold tickets, the local cable, satellite, and other video distributors could not televise the game. The National Football League, along with the National Association of Broadcasters and the NFL Players Association, strongly opposed Sports Fans Coalition's efforts.

"This is a historic day for sports fans," said David Goodfriend, Chairman of Sports Fans Coalition and a former Deputy Staff Secretary to President Bill Clinton. "Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL's obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today's FCC action makes clear:  if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam's help."

"Republicans and Democrats don't agree on much these days, but when it comes to getting government out of the business of mistreating sports fans, we are in total agreement," said Brad Blakeman, Sports Fans Coalition Board Member and a former Deputy Assistant to President George W. Bush for Appointments and Scheduling.  "The era of government writing a blank check to sports leagues is over."

Sports Fans Coalition intends to keep the momentum going after today's FCC action, specifically by pursuing the following initiatives:

1.      Eliminating sports leagues' anti-trust exemption for imposing local blackouts;

2.      Enacting the FANS Act, introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY)

3.      Conditioning taxpayer funding of professional sports arenas on direct benefits for fans, including free tickets for certain categories of veterans and school children, or in the alternative eliminating such public funding altogether; and

4.      Working with domestic violence prevention professionals to help make professional sports something parents can once again proudly share with their children.

"American sports fans love their home teams, love the games, and will fight to make sure that government policies uphold the best that sports have to offer," said Goodfriend.

Sports Fans Coalition is based in Washington, D.C., and was founded in 2009 by sports fans and former members of the Clinton and Bush White Houses to fight for fans in the public policy arena.

R.I.P. Sports Blackout Rule--a Brief History

  • 1975: The FCC establishes the Sports Blackout Rule without a congressional mandate to do so--when a professional sports league orders a broadcaster not to televise a local game, the local cable operator may not televise that game in that market. The NFL claims that blackouts are necessary to maintain ticket sales because fans otherwise would stay at home and watch the game on TV.
  • 1980s-90s: The NFL becomes the only professional sports league to order local blackouts whenever the stadium does not sell out. FCC amends Sports Blackout Rule to apply to satellite TV and OVS video providers.
  • 2011: NFL blackouts become concentrated in markets hardest hit by Great Recession, with 75% of local games blacked out in Cincinnati, OH; 71% in Tampa Bay, FL; 38% in Buffalo, NY; and 25% in San Diego, CA.
  • November 11, 2011: Sports Fans Coalition, joined by the National Consumers League, Public Knowledge, League of Fans, and Media Access Project, files Petition for Rulemaking at the FCC to end the Sports Blackout Rule, stating that the federal government's support of the NFL's blackout policy must end. FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski establishes Notice of Inquiry to recieve input from stakeholders.
  • December, 2013: Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn circulates to other Commissioners a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to end the Sports Blackout Rule, citing changes to the marketplace and statutes since 1975, the ability of sports leagues to accomplish through contract what the Rule set out to do, and the anti-consumer impact of blackouts. The Commission adopts the Notice 5-0.
  • 2014: The FCC record started in 2012 expands. The NFL, Major Leage Baseball, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League, and National Association of Broadcasters support the Rule. Thousands of sports fans oppose the Rule, including elderly and disabled fans who say that they are physically unable to attend games, so blackouts do not encourage them to buy tickets. Others say ticket prices are unaffordable. Additional stakeholders opposing the Rule include George Mason University, Consumers Union, NCTA, ITTA, and DIRECTV.
  • Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), and Rep. Brian Higgins (D-NY) lead congressional support for ending the Sports Blackout Rule and are joined by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).
  • The NFL mounts a nationwide campaign to preserve the Sports Blackout Rule, hiring Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann to conduct grass roots campaign and securing the support of the NFL Players Association, AFL-CIO, UNITE Here, Rainbow/PUSH, National Conference of State Legislators, and others.
  • August 12, 2014: FCC Commissioner Agit Pai announces in Buffalo, NY his support for ending the Sports Blackout Rule and calls upon Chairman Wheeler to bring to a vote a final order ending the Rule.
  • September 9, 2014: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announces inUSA Todaythat he will bring to a vote a final order ending the Sports Blackout Rule, citing the anti-consumer effects of the NFL's blackout policy and the power enjoyed by the NFL today in video markets.
  • September 30, 2014: FCC adopts final order ending Sports Blackout Rule.

Ball is in your endzone. It will now be solely the NFL and the owners who are responsible if games are blacked out in your area.