FCC gets out of the NFL blackout business

The FCC voted unanimously Tuesday to end 40-year-old rules that restrict pay-TV companies from carrying pro sports games in "blacked out" markets.

The 5-0 vote ending the blackout rule doesn't mean its primary benefactor, the National Football League, can't impose the same restrictions in the contracts it signs with pay-TV operators. It just gets rid of the Federal Communications Commissions' regulatory backing.

"It's a simple fact: the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games. Period," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said.

The blackout rules were established decades ago, when a far more fledgling NFL didn't enjoy the kind of huge TV revenue and sold-out gate attendance it does today.

Essentially, the rules mandated that if a game wasn't 85 percent sold out within 72 hours of kickoff, the local broadcast station couldn't show it. And pay-TV operators couldn't let their subscribers in that local market see a feed from an out-of-town station. TV, as the theory went, would not be the reason why NFL fans chose not to go to the games.

Despite record revenue and attendance,  the NFL has argued that lifting the ban would result in its games migrating away from free over-the-air broadcast to cable networks.

However, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai dismissed that argument, noting that the NFL has lucrative broadcast deals lined up with Fox, NBC and CBS through 2022.

"By moving games to pay-TV, the NFL would be cutting off its nose to spite its face," Pai said.

For more:
- read this USA Today story
- read this Wall Street Journal story

Related links:
FCC's Wheeler sets Sept. 30 date to vote out NFL blackout rules
DirecTV reaches deal with Dispatch Video, pleads to Raycom: 'Let the people see pro football
NFL creates sites to rally support around blackout rule
DirecTV to pay around $1.4B to renew NFL Sunday Ticket, report says