Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) reintroduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act, which would hinder the ability of broadcasters to black out sports events during retrans disputes with pay-TV operators.
The bill would essentially require sports leagues like the NFL to -- in order to keep their antitrust exemption -- ensure the media companies they license their TV access to don't black out pay-TV operators during impasses in negotiations.
"This provision ensures that live telecasts -- made possible through public policy and public subsidies -- are not held hostage as a result of contractual disputes between broadcast or cable channels and cable or satellite companies," the senators said.
Highly watched sports events are often used as bargaining chips in pay-TV negotiations, with fans more likely to blame their operator when their favorite team is blacked out.
Not surprisingly, the bill's re-introduction is being lauded by the pay-TV industry.
"Dish applauds Senators McCain and Blumenthal for reintroducing the bipartisan FANS Act. Sports fans should not get dragged into retransmission consent disputes. We hope that Congress gives their proposal serious consideration," said Jeffrey Blum, senior VP and deputy general counsel for Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH).
"Consumers should not have to suffer through TV sports blackouts when their tax dollars go to assist teams via funding support for stadium construction and associated public infrastructure while the teams each rake in millions of dollars in revenue a year from TV contracts," added Matthew Polka, president and CEO of the American Cable Association.
McCain and Blumenthal were also instrumental in last year's lifting of NFL blackout rules that 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.
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