FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has scheduled a vote for Sept. 30 on a proposal to end the near 40-year-old sports blackout rules, which he says “make no sense at all.”
The rules prohibit cable providers from airing a game that has been blacked out on the local television station because it was not sold out.
The NFL is opposing the move along with major broadcasters, but Wheeler wrote in a blog post that the rules are are “a bad hangover from the days when barely 40% of games sold out and gate receipts were the league’s principal source of revenue.”
“Last weekend, every single game was sold out,” Wheeler wrote. “More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television. NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the league made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out.”
He added, “Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable.”
The NFL, CBS, Fox and the National Assn. of Broadcasters have been lobbying to preserve the blackout rule, arguing that doing so would jeopardize pro football on free TV. They say that the rule boosts stadium attendance and local businesses, and that it is pay-TV lobbyists who have created a “manufactured controversy” to abandon the rule. Lynn Swann has been leading an effort to preserve the rule, filing letters from more than 15,000 petitioning the agency to keep the blackout.
In an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday, Wheeler cited what he called an “egregious case” in Green Bay, Wis., where a playoff game was failing to sell out because of a sub-zero cold snap. He wrote that “local Packer fans were effectively told that if more people didn’t buy tickets to go freeze, the rest of the community wouldn’t be able to watch the game on TV.” Only when local businesses purchased remaining tickets was the game cleared to be shown.
He rejected the notion that eliminating the rule would lead to more games moving to pay-TV platforms.
“To hear the NFL describe it, you would think that putting a game on CBS, NBC or Fox was a money-losing proposition instead of a highly profitable multibillion-dollar business,” he wrote. “If the league truly has the best interest of millions of American fans at heart, they could simply commit to staying on network television in perpetuity.”