John McCain Blasts NFL After Three Playoff Games Barely Avoid Blackouts

Viewers in Green Bay, Indianapolis and Cincinnati will be able to watch their team’s NFL playoff games, after a coordinated effort was made to make last-minute purchases of tickets to make sure that the games sold out and didn’t invoke blackout rules.

That’s a good thing for broadcasters, the NFL and other major league sports teams that oppose an FCC proposal to end its blackout rule, as such high-profile blackouts likely would have only given more momentum to efforts to eliminate the regulation.

Nevertheless, critics jumped on the last-minute reprieve to argue that blackout rules are unfair. If the FCC ends its rule, it would have no impact on the ability of sports leagues to put such provisions in private contracts with broadcasters.

But Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are cosponsoring legislation that would require that the NFL make games available on the Internet during a blackout or risk losing its antitrust exemption. McCain said that the reprieve of this weekend’s playoff games “should serve as an example to all sports fans of how poorly many rules and regulations are serving consumers and taxpayers today.

“The fact is that the NFL in particular enjoys numerous benefits paid for by tax-paying consumers, through antitrust exemptions, tax exemptions and publicly financed stadium construction,” McCain said in a statement. “Consumers should be the beneficiaries of these arrangements, yet this episode shows that is not the case. The original aim of the league’s blackout policy is no longer logical in today’s marketplace.”

In general, the blackout rules call for a certain amount of a stadium’s seats to be sold before a game is broadcast locally. The FCC’s rule, which is nearly 40 years old, prevents satellite and cable providers from offering out-of-market feeds of games when a blackout is in place in a market.

According to the Green Bay Packers, corporate partners such as Associated Bank, local Fox affiliates and Mills Fleet Farm and Bellin Health stepped in to purchase remaining tickets on Friday and ensure a sellout. Fans face brutally cold temperatures as they watch the team face off against the San Francisco 49ers.

In Indianapolis, retailer Meijer purchased 1,200 tickets to sell out a Saturday playoff when the Colts face the Kansas City Chiefs. Kroger supermarket chain purchased “a large quantity of tickets” to ensure a sellout of the Cincinnati Bengals sellout against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. In both cities, free tickets are being offered to military veterans.

But Blumenthal said that fans should not have “to depend on a corporate white knight to buy out stadium.”

The NFL opposes the elimination of the blackout rule, as does the National Assn. of Broadcasters. They note that the number of games blacked out is at an historic low, and broadcasters warn that doing away with the rule will likely mean that more games will migrate to pay platforms.

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