Blacking out NFL games from local TV seems like an odd idea, but it’s still a reality in places like San Diego and Buffalo. Last year, the Chargers and Bills owners told TV stations not to show the games, and here’s what almost happened in Wisconsin during the playoffs:
The most egregious case was in Green Bay, where the weather forecast called for a low of minus-15 degrees. Despite decades of unbelievable fan support and loyalty – Green Bay had sold out every regular season game since 1959 – local Packer fans were effectively told that if more people didn’t buy tickets to go freeze, the rest of the community wouldn’t be able to watch the game on TV.
That salty description comes from none other than FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, whose agency helps to enforce a blackout rule by requiring pay TV providers to mirror local broadcasters’ restrictions. In practice, this means that fans can’t get around a local broadcast blackout by watching an out-of-town feed.
But now the [company]FCC[/company] Chair says enough is enough. In a Tuesday piece in USA Today, Wheeler blasted the NFL and the teams for “this anti-fan practice” and said the agency would make good on a promise by voting to scrap the practice on September 30.
The blackouts exist in the first place as a way for NFL owners to ensure they don’t lose out on ticket and stadium-related revenue due to fans watching the game at home. Under the rules, owners can declare a TV blackout in an area around their stadiums up to 72 hours ahead of any game that is not sold out.
Today, however, blackouts are less frequent at a time when the popularity of the [company]NFL[/company] is soaring and owners are enriched by massive TV contracts. In recent years, the blackouts have only affected small market teams, including Tampa, Buffalo, San Diego and Cincinnati.
While the NFL could still recreate the FCC-enforced blackouts through contracts with the cable companies, it’s uncertain if they will do so.
Meanwhile, sports fans could catch another break thanks to a court ruling that suggests internet blackout arrangements by the NHL and Major League Baseball violate antitrust rules.