Sports blackouts DQ'd before NFL playoffs

Sports blackouts DQ'd before NFL playoffs
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Sports blackout rules will be wiped from the books well before the National Football League’s playoff season rolls around, giving fans increased assurances that games will be shown — regardless of attendance.

The NFL has long required local broadcast stations, such as CBS and Fox, to black out games that are not sellouts. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted last month to scrap decades-old regulations that ban cable and satellite companies from showing those games.

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But the decision cannot take effect until 30 days after the new regulations are published in the Federal Register. That will happen on Friday, according to an FCC notice issued Thursday, meaning the rules will be gone before week 13 of the NFL season — or a full month before the playoffs begin.

While blackouts have become exceedingly rare, critics and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle had assailed the rules.

The FCC regulations date back to 1975, when sports leagues feared that the rise of televised games would lead to a drop-off in ticket sales.

In a unanimous vote, the FCC’s commissioners agreed that the rules had become out-of-date and hurt consumers wishing to watch their local teams in the confines of their homes.

“With respect to professional football, television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the primary source of revenue for NFL teams,” the agency wrote in its notice. “For this reason, among others, we conclude that the sports blackout rules are no longer needed to ensure that sports programming is widely available to television viewers.”

The agency stressed, however, that the action does not necessarily end blackouts of games.

Even after the FCC move, the NFL can still make individual deals with cable and satellite providers to black out certain games. But the league will no longer be afforded any protections to do so under federal regulations, the agency said.

"Instead, it must rely on the same avenues available to any other entity that wishes to protect its distribution rights in the private marketplace,” the FCC said.