McCain, Blumenthal want FCC to move ball forward on sports blackout rule

Sens. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMellman: Where are good faith and integrity? GOP senator says Republicans didn't control Senate when they held majority Pence met with silence after mentioning Trump in Munich speech MORE (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) on Wednesday pressed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to move the ball forward on potentially changing its sports blackout rule.

In a letter to acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn, the two senators said the commission should put forward its proposed solutions to the blackout rule and receive feedback on "what would serve the public interest, convenience and necessity."  McCain and Blumenthal noted that it's been more than a year since the FCC issued a request for public comment on a proposal to end the rule. 

"Commenters have put forth a wide range of proposals, from maintaining the Sports Blackout Rule in its current form, to establishing a sunset and renewal process, to eliminating the rule altogether," the two senators write in the letter. "With so much detailed information on the record from such a wide range of stakeholders, it is time for the Commission to take the next logical step and move to a [notice of proposed rulemaking]."

The 1975 rule adopted by the FCC bars cable and satellite providers from carrying a sports event if the game is blacked out on local broadcast television stations. Local broadcasters had been required to black out games if the local NFL team did not sell out the stadium. That NFL rule was tweaked last summer when the league decided that it's up to teams to decide whether local TV broadcasters can air games if the stadium is at least 85 percent full.

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The rule is intended to encourage fans to buy tickets to watch the game in person.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment on the senators' letter.

McCain and Blumenthal said the FCC has collected a substantial amount of feedback on the rule and has the authority to amend it independently of Congress.

"It is important to note that Congress never instructed the commission to promulgate the Sports Blackout Rule in the first place," they write. "The commission therefore possesses ample authority to amend the Sports Blackout Rule sua sponte, without any action by Congress."

The Sports Fans Coalition, an advocacy group that has pushed for the commission to end the blackout rule altogether, cheered the lawmakers' comments. The group has argued that the blackout rule prevents fans who either can't afford tickets to the game or are physically unable to attend in person from watching their local teams play on TV.

"Sen. McCain and Sen. Blumenthal are true friends of the sports fan. They understand that taking away games, especially when those games use public funds, is just plain wrong. And in this case, a federal rule that props up sports blackouts is just plain wrong," said David Goodfriend, chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition. 

Brendan Sasso contributed to this report.