Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Feds say sports blackouts should be eliminated

The Federal Communications Commission wants to get rid of blackout rules, which serve primarily to keep NFL games from airing in markets where the home team failed to sell out.

In a notice of proposed rule-making released Wednesday, the FCC said the sports marketplace has "changed dramatically" and the "economic rationale under­lying the sports blackout rules may no longer be valid."

Generally, when the agency proposes a rule change, there is enough support — at least at the time — among the five commissioners.

There now will be a 60-day period for the public and affected parties to comment and respond to comments. (That can be done at fcc.gov.) A final decision likely won't come until the spring at the earliest.

"The American sports fan just won another round," David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition, told politico.com. "This is the beginning of the end of the sports blackout rule in particular and government subsidization of antifan behavior by sports leagues more generally."

The change would not prevent leagues from negotiating private agreements for blackouts with broadcasters.

Adapted in 1975, blackout rules were designed to prevent pay-TV distributors, including cable and satellite operators, from circumventing agreements between leagues and TV rights-holders.

For example, when the Bucs fail to sell out a game 72 hours before kickoff — and thus WTVT-Ch. 13, Fox's regional affiliate, couldn't show the game — a pay-TV distributor can't import the signal of the game and show it.

Generally in baseball, hockey and basketball, blackouts are used to protect local stations that have bought the rights to air games for local teams.

For example, Sun Sports owns the rights to Lightning games, so its games cannot air on NBC Sports Network, NHL Network or other cable channels in regions where viewers get Sun Sports.

The exception comes when the right to broadcast a game is bought exclusively by a national network such as Fox's Saturday baseball game of the week or ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball. Those games cannot air anywhere else, including on apps on smartphone or tablets.

At the time the rule was introduced, NFL teams' primary source of revenue was ticket sales and there were concerns that if games not sold out aired on television, it could encourage fans to stay home.

Now the bulk of revenues comes from TV and merchandise. Also, blackouts now are rare. According to the FCC, in 1974 — the year before the blackout rules took effect — 59 percent of regular-season games were blacked out.

In 2012, the NFL changed its policy, allowing a team to avoid blackouts if it sold 85 percent of its tickets. According to the league, only 6 percent of games were blacked out. This season, only one game has been blacked out, the Bengals at Chargers on Dec. 1.

Media watchdogs, cable and satellite operators and lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., have argued the rules should be gutted.

"Existing blackout policies, quite literally, leave fans in the dark, and leagues or programmers that enforce them should not be rewarded with special regulatory status, antitrust exemptions or taxpayer subsidies," Blumenthal said in a statement his office released.

The NFL wants to keep the rules in place.

"While affecting very few games the past decade," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said, "the blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds."

Feds say sports blackouts should be eliminated 12/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 18, 2013 11:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Florida football has become something to be endured, not enjoyed

    College

    The Jim McElwain era at Florida is something to be endured, not enjoyed.

    Florida Gators defensive lineman Khairi Clark (54) leaves the field after the Florida Gators game against Texas A&M, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, in Gainesville, Fla. The Florida Gators lost to the Texas A&M Aggies 17-16 MONICA HERNDON   |   Times
.
  2. Cannon Fodder podcast: Most important stat in Bucs-Bills game

    Blogs

    Greg Auman talks about the uncertainty at quarterback for the Bucs as they go to Buffalo in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Interceptions, such as this one by Brent Grimes against Arizona, will be the most important stat in Sunday's game.
  3. Dirk Koetter sounds Bucs alarm: 'They're the players that we have'

    Blogs

    The other day, Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith was asked about the lack of production and pressure from the defensive line, especially off the edge.

    Then it happened.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (28) takes the field for the start of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the New England Patriots on October 5, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
  4. Superiority complex: USF continues to battle schedule, expectations

    College

    Does USF deserve its No. 16 national ranking? Coach Charlie Strong says there's no doubt. He expects that his Bulls can match up with any Division I-A program. (Octavio Jones, Times)
  5. Rick and Tom podcast: Who will be the Bucs' QB on Sunday?

    Blogs

    Who the Bucs' quarterback will be Sunday against the Bills became clear as mud as Jameis Winston hasn't thrown all week but will take all the practice reps today.

    Will Ryan Fitzpatrick start for the Bucs Sunday in Buffalo?