By Jennifer Martinez - 07/03/12 08:57 PM EDT
“Fans should be able to root for and watch their favorite teams even when they cannot attend in person,” the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement.
It is now up to individual clubs to decide what the seat threshold will be for local broadcasters to air the games. Teams will have to share more of their revenue with the NFL if they go over that set benchmark.
A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters said the trade group believes "this change will result in considerably fewer requests by the NFL for local TV stations to not carry games."
When asked to comment on the change, an NFL spokesman did not answer why the organization decided to change the rule, but noted that last year “only 6 percent of games were blacked out in a local market, near historical lows.”
“Each year, clubs and the league office review all aspects of our operations including our ticketing policies,” the spokesman said.
But some football clubs that could struggle with ticket sales could opt to keep the original blackout policy in place. San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos reportedly said the team likely would not lower the benchmark for a blackout, according to NFL.com.
The Sports Fans Coalition, an advocacy group that pushed for the rule change, lauded the decision but vowed to continue its push for the Federal Communications Commission to end its own blackout rule. The agency issued a formal request for public comment back in January on ending a rule that prevents cable and satellite operators to air a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast TV stations.
The FCC rule is intended to encourage fans to buy tickets to see the game. The agency declined to comment on whether it was going to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the rule.
“This is a huge victory for fans. The NFL is finally beginning to see the light on blackouts after four decades of the same blackout policy ... and it was because of noise from fans,” said Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fans Coalition.
“We still think that the government shouldn’t be in the business of propping up these blackouts, so we’ll continue fight for the end the FCC’s blackout rule.”