NFL should ban blackouts for good, FCC head says

NFL should ban blackouts for good, FCC head says
© Getty Images

The head of the Federal Communications Commission is urging the NFL to extend its temporary ban on blacked-out games.

The professional football league announced this week that it was dropping its policy to allow games to be blacked out on local TV for one year.


FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose agency last year eliminated blackout rules of its own, said that should be just the start.

“I think that we have done our thing in so far as our rules are concerned,” he told reporters on Thursday. “All of the horrible, horrible things that were supposed to be a result of that apparently didn’t happen and they have embraced it. “

“I hope that they would continue that.”

Previously, the NFL had a policy of forcing local broadcast TV stations to black out football games that don’t sell out 72 hours before kickoff. The blackouts rarely happen, but they had become a common enemy among football fans of all stripes and, critics said, disproportionately hurt teams in smaller markets.

Former FCC rules extended that blackout to cable and satellite companies, ensuring that those providers could also not show games that were blacked out on local broadcast channels such as Fox and CBS.

Last year, the agency got rid of those rules, despite heated lobbying from the NFL. Despite the rule change, the league would still have been able to cut deals with individual cable and satellite companies to black out games that don’t show on local broadcast television.

The league had previously warned that the rule change might force it to take some local games off of free, over-the-air television and move them to channels only available to people with cable or satellite subscriptions. It has so far shown no signs of doing that.

Instead, on Monday, the NFL announced that it was dropping the policy of imposing blackouts for the 2015 season. After that, it would “evaluate the impact of the suspension” and decide whether to make the change permanent.