Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn looks to gut NFL blackout rule

Acting FCC Chairwoman Clyburn looks to gut NFL blackout rule
Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn is not a fan of the sports blackout rule.

Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn is not taking it easy during her final days as head of the regulatory agency.

On Friday, Clyburn circulated a proposal to do away with the 40-year-old sports blackout rules, which allow the National Football League to blackout television coverage of games in a team’s home market if it isn’t sold out within 72 hours of kickoff.


“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games,” Clyburn said in a statement. “Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events." 

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Pushing to remove the rules is the Sports Fan Coalition. However, the head lobbyist for Sports Fan Coalition is a former lobbyist for satellite broadcaster Dish Network. Time Warner Cable has also filed comments in favor of removing the restriction.

The pay-TV distributors want to remove the restriction because they hope to get around the league’s contractual blackout rule with broadcasters and offer games themselves that otherwise might not be seen in a local market.  

A spokesman for the NFL said the league would review the proposal and added that so far this season there have been no blackouts through 133 games. In the past, the NFL has indicated it is against any changes to the blackout rules.

Blackouts have become increasingly rare over the last 20 years. In the last two season, just 6% of games were blacked out and since 2001, the average is about 8% of games. In the 1970s, the average was 50%.


Clyburn has served as acting chairwoman since Julius Genachowski resigned earlier this year as chairman. Next week Tom Wheeler is expected to be sworn in as new chairman of the FCC and Clyburn will return to being a commissioner.


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Follow Joe Flint on Twitter @JBFlint.


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