The Federal Communications Commission has made a huge move, eliminating the sports blackout rules that have been in place for nearly four decades. The rules, which prohibited cable and satellite providers from airing sports events which were blacked out in local broadcast markets due to lack of stadium sellouts, will no longer be enforced by the Commission.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean your local NFL game can’t be blacked out.
According to the FCC, the sports blackout rules are “no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted.” The FCC argues that ticket sales used to be the primary source of revenue for the NFL, and sellouts were rare.
Now it’s the blackouts that are rare (only two in the entirety of last season). Not only that, but the NFL’s television revenue was a reported $6 billion in 2013.
So, the action will “remove Commission protection of the NFL’s current private blackout policy” – but could games still be blacked out?
Yes, unfortunately for fans.
The NFL currently has private blackout contracts with broadcast networks like CBS and FOX. These contracts, at least as of now, won’t expire until 2022.
But according to the FCC, “the NFL will no longer be entitled to the protection of the Commission’s sports blackout rules – instead the NFL must rely on the same avenues available to other entities that wish to protect their distribution rights in the private marketplace.
In other words, the FCC is no longer the NFL’s enforcer.
As USA Today points out, cable and satellite operators are now, theoretically, allowed to show a local, blacked out game. This is something that broadcast networks feared could happen with a rule change.
But once again, blackouts are extremely rare in today’s NFL.
The NFL, for its part, had this to say:
“NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts. The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television. The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”
Image via Parker Anderson, Flickr Creative Commons