FCC Chief Proposes Ending NFL Game Broadcast Blackouts

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The outgoing boss of the FCC has proposed putting an end to the televised football game blackouts that have bedeviled NFL fans for decades.

On Friday, Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said that she was proposing to eliminate the Commission's blackout rules, which prohibit cable or satellite providers from carrying home games that have been blacked out on local broadcasts. The rule primarily impacts the NFL, which blacks out games on local broadcast television if the stadium has not sold out. The policy was put in place to encourage attendance, but has led to widespread complaints from small-market and under-performing teams unable to fill their stadiums.

"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. She went on to note that repealing the rules would not prevent broadcasters and sports leagues from privately negotiating to black out certain sporting events.

That means that the practical impact for sports fans is unclear.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%"As Clyburn pointed out in her statement, the NFL can still require blackouts as part of their contracts with programmers, and probably will," writes Broadcasting & Cable, which tracks TV industry news. "Essentially, it gets the FCC out of the picture."

The 40-year-old rules have come under sporadic attack by members of Congress and by interest groups like the Sports Fan Coalition, which has lobbied the FCC to put an end to the rules. In response to criticism, the NFL tweaked its rules last year to allow teams to set their attendance threshold as low as 85 percent of capacity to avoid a blackout. Despite this, fans in small markets like Tampa Bay and Buffalo saw some of their games blacked out on local TV.

"If the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the Commission's involvement in this area should end," concludes Clyburn.

Though she won't be the head of the FCC, Clyburn will still be around to lobby for the end of blackouts: She is slated to retain her position as an FCC commissioner until 2017. But Tom Wheeler was confirmed this week by the Senate as the new chairman of the FCC.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.
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