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NFL halts blackouts of games

NFL halts blackouts of games
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The NFL is suspending a controversial policy that had allowed some football games to be blacked out for local TV viewers, apparently in response to a move by federal regulators.

The league on Monday said that team owners voted to suspend the long-standing policy for the 2015 season and preseason. The previous policy required broadcast stations, such as CBS and Fox, to black out games in local markets where games don’t sell out 72 hours ahead of time.

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“The league will evaluate the impact of the suspension after the season,” the NFL said in a statement.

The action appears to have been spurred in large part by the Federal Communications Commission, which in September unanimously voted to kill four-decade-old regulations that banned cable and satellite companies from showing games that were blacked out on local channels.

The rules were originally written in response to fears that ticket sales would drop off as sports games became televised.

“It’s a simple fact: The federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games, period,” agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the time.

The NFL launched a vigorous lobbying blitz ahead of the FCC’s action, fearing it could force the league to move games off of free over-the-air broadcast channels and onto networks only accessible with a cable or satellite subscription. 

Despite the federal rule change, the NFL could still have made individual deals with cable and satellite providers to black out certain games that don’t sell out.

The NFL has long defended the blackout policy, which it said was necessary to ensure that all local games could be shown on free TV stations. Despite the policy, no games were blacked out last year, and just two blackouts occurred in 2013.