Dems attack football blackout

Lawmakers are pushing back against the NFL’s plans to black out a football game on Sunday.

Local fans in Buffalo, N.Y., won’t be able to watch Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins on television. Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) say that shows the need to put an end to current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules.

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“The game will be played here in Buffalo on Sunday, but hundreds of thousands of people will be denied access to the game because of this rule that the FCC has determined to be outdated and obsolete,” Higgins, who represents the Buffalo area, said.

The NFL requires local broadcast TV stations to black out football games if the local team can’t sell out the stadium. Current FCC rules then prevent other TV companies, like cable and satellite providers, from showing the game.

The policy has been a sore spot for fans and has had a disproportionate impact on smaller teams with large stadiums, advocates of reform say. The home stadium for the Buffalo Bills, for instance, seats about 73,000 fans — 6,000 more than the league average. Buffalo, however, is the second smallest market in the league.

This week, the FCC unanimously voted to propose ending its sports blackout rule. That was only the first step towards ending it entirely, though. The public has two months to submit comments, which the five-member FCC will need to review before deciding whether or not to end the rule.

Even if it does, leagues, cable providers and broadcasters would still be able to agree to contracts blacking out some games.

Higgins, Blumenthal and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act, which would eliminate antitrust exemptions that allow the blackouts and require leagues to make games available online if they can’t be seen on TV.

“This blackout is exhibit A for why we need to abolish the antitrust exemptions for teams that engage in this anti-consumer conduct,” Blumenthal told reporters on Friday. “It is nothing more or less than exploiting fans, stopping them from seeing games they are entitled to see and fattening the bottom lines of teams at the expense of fans with the implicit support of the government, so long as these antitrust exemptions remain in force.”

That would go above and beyond the FCC’s push, he said, to make the policy permanent.

“It would essentially eliminate any ability of the FCC to change the rules again and go back to authorizing or allowing blackouts,” Blumenthal said. “We need to eliminate not only the regulations but also the law underlying it.”

Sunday’s game will be the second blackout of the NFL season.