FCC might end sports blackouts

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Friday said it is moving toward eliminating the blackout rules for televised sports.

If the agency gets rid of the rules, cable and satellite companies would no longer be prohibited from showing sports games — usually professional football — when local broadcasters black them out.

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The NFL negotiates with broadcasters to blackout football games as a way to encourage ticket sales. If a local broadcaster is prohibited from showing a game, FCC rules prohibit cable and satellite companies across the country from showing that game in the same market.

Sports fans have long complained about the blackout rules, and the leader of FCC questioned whether they are still needed.

“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,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said in a statement.  

If the FCC were to eliminate its blackout rules, the NFL would still be able to negotiate with TV companies to have the games blacked out, but the FCC would not be involved in those agreements.

“Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events,” she said.

Lawmakers and consumer groups, such as the Sports Fan Coalition, have pressured the FCC to reconsider its involvement in enforcing sports blackout agreements.

Broadcasters were critical of the agency's announcement, and said their viewers will suffer if cable and satellite providers are able to show games that broadcasters have agreed not televise.

"Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community," The National Association of Broadcasters said in a statement.