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Movement to change NFL blackout rules gaining momentum

An upcoming FCC vote may permanently change the NFL's blackout rules.

(Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)
(Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports)

Television blackouts have been a part of the sports broadcasting business model for decades, but this past NFL postseason the threat of regional television blackouts became a stark reality. The Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals needed an NFL-permitted extension to sell out their home playoff games and avoid regional blackouts. The Green Bay Packers, one of the league’s most popular teams, needed corporate partners and advertisers, led by Green Bay-based Associated Bank, to purchase the remaining available tickets just hours before the scheduled game.

The NFL is becoming increasingly susceptible to blackouts, particularly as consumers derive more and more pleasure from the convenience and enhancement capabilities afforded by comfortable living room couches, 50-inch flatscreens, and the football fan’s holy grail: high-speed internet for fantasy updates. For most of us fans, shelling out hundreds of dollars for four hours of sitting in a cold stadium just doesn’t have the allure it once did.

Accordingly, there’s a great deal of intrigue over this fall’s FCC vote to remove television and online sports blackouts altogether. While nothing is set in stone, the movement to change the legislation has picked up significant steam in recent months, with U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) continuing to champion the cause. The existing FCC sports blackout regulations ended in March, sparking this window of opportunity to revisit the rule. In a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, McCain and Blumenthal stated:

“We believe that the rule unfairly harms consumers by insulating the NFL from market realities and punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations. We applaud the FCC’s decision to propose elimination of this outdated rule that is no longer supported by facts or logic, and blocks fans from enjoying their favorite teams.”

The momentum surrounding the FCC’s anticipated upcoming vote suggests that the blackout rules will be quite different moving forward. And while there may be eventual pushback from the NFL and other pro sports, it appears for now that the FCC and legislators are looking out for the fans.

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