FCC takes first step toward ending sports blackout rule

Soon, it may not matter if your local team has sold out its game if you want to watch it on TV.
(Mark Lennihan / Associated Press)
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It could be the beginning of the end of sports blackouts.

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to begin the process of eliminating sports blackout rules that prohibit broadcasting of some events – among them NFL games – if too few tickets are sold. The rules were put in place 40 years ago.

“Changes in the sports industry in the last four decades have called into question whether the sports blackout rules remain necessary to ensure the overall availability of sports telecasts to the public,” according to the FCC’s notice of proposed rule-making.

The FCC will now collect public comment to evaluate whether the rules serve the public, the next step toward potentially taking them off the books. No action is expected until sometime next year.


Sports leagues and broadcasters would still have the ability to privately negotiate blackout agreements.

Blackouts in the NFL largely have become a thing of the past. There have been just two this season, in large part because the league has redefined a “sellout,” requiring teams to sell only 85% of general-admission tickets to lift the blackout. Often, when the possibility of a blackout looms, teams and/or sponsors have bought the remaining unsold tickets for 34 cents on the dollar.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced legislation earlier this year that would prohibit blackouts for games played in stadiums that were fully or partially funded with taxpayer money.

After Wednesday’s FCC vote, McCain tweeted: “Hooray! Great victory for sports fans!”


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