Labor union goes to bat for sports blackout rule

The AFL-CIO is warning the Federal Communications Commission not to get rid of a rule that forces cable and satellite companies to black out some sports games.

Union President Richard Trumka told the commission in a letter this week that getting rid of the rule “would have a significant negative impact — not only on union members, but also on sports fans, local communities and the public at large.”

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The FCC’s blackout rule — which keeps cable and satellite companies from showing games that are blacked out on local broadcast TV stations — helps fill stadiums, Trumka wrote, which is good for both employees and fans of the National Football League.

“Football games have become community activities and economic development drivers in major American cities,” he wrote. “Many workers, including union members, depend on the business generated by fans attending sold-out games for income to support their families.”

The FCC has begun the process of getting rid of the rule, which dates back to 1975, arguing that times have changed and the regulation is no longer necessary to encourage people to buy tickets to football games. Critics of the existing rule say that it prevents the NFL from feeling normal market pressures and disproportionately hurts teams in smaller cities.

The league has fought back with an aggressive lobbying blitz, however, and many supporters have also stepped up, including more than a dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

They have said that elimination of the FCC rule could force the league to take some games off free broadcast channels like CBS and NBC, which would make it harder for fans to watch their favorite teams.

The NFL currently requires broadcast stations to black out games that aren’t sold out ahead of time. Even if the FCC were to eliminate its blackout rules, the league could still negotiate deals with broadcasters and cable companies to keep some games off the air.