Senators introduce bill to end sports blackouts

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) introduced a bill Tuesday that would end sports blackouts.

In a statement, McCain said the bill targets “archaic blackout policies and regulations that hurt sports fans around the country.”

Currently, sports leagues — most notably the NFL — can prohibit broadcasters from showing a game if the stadium has not sold enough tickets to that game. The Federal Communications Commission then prohibits other TV companies, like cable and satellite providers, from showing that game.

The FCC announced earlier this month that it is considering ending its sports blackout rules, but leagues would still be able to negotiate blackouts with TV companies directly.

The bill from Blumenthal and McCain — titled the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act — would eliminate those FCC rules and require that sports leagues make games available online, either for a fee or for free, if they're not available on TV.

“While the FCC'S announcement last week that it would consider changes to the sports blackout rule is encouraging – and something we've urged in the past – legislation is still needed to improve this regulatory framework,” McCain said.

Additionally the bill would prevent broadcasters from using sports blackouts as a bargaining chip during contracting disputes with cable and satellite providers.

“Special breaks should be stopped for professional sports leagues that impose anti-consumer blackout policies leaving their fans in the dark,” Blumenthal said in a statement. 

“This legislation would protect fans who now get the short end of the stick from leagues that treat the public with contempt while continuing to enjoy public benefits.”

The Sports Fan Coalition — which has lobbied for an end to sports blackout rules in the past — applauded the bill.

“Sports fans should not be treated like a fumbled pigskin every time there’s a fight between TV industry players,” the coalition’s Chairman David Goodfriend said in a statement. 

“The FANS Act would get the job done.”