Signaling the FCC's most decisive move yet in regard to ending 40-year-old rules that black out local pro football games, Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has set a Sept. 30 vote to—he apparently hopes—do away with them.
Announcing the vote Tuesday in a USA Today op-ed piece, Wheeler said the rules are an anachronism, adopted in the more formative days of the National Football League, when few games sold out, and TV access threatened what was the league's primary revenue stream.
The NFL is much bigger now, Wheeler said, and the rules are no longer needed. The Federal Communications Commission's specific oversight concerns how pay-TV operators approach blackouts. Currently, if a station is blacking out the local team, an MSO can't show its subscribers a feed from an out-of-market station that has the game.
"Last weekend, every single game was sold out," Wheeler wrote. "More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television. NFL games dominated last week's ratings, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL's incredible popularity, it's not surprising that last year the league made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out."
He added, "Clearly, the NFL no longer needs the government's help to remain viable."
To illustrate his point, Wheeler noted a Green Bay Packers playoff game last January that took place in sub-zero temperatures. It was the first Packers game in decades that didn't sell out.
"Local Packer fans were effectively told that if more people didn't buy tickets to go freeze, the rest of the community wouldn't be able to watch the game on TV," Wheeler said.
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