As it stands today, the NFL can blackout games on local broadcasts if the home team does not sell out 85 percent of non-premium seats in its stadium 72 hours before kickoff.
But the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t want any part of that rule anymore.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai called the blackout rule “outdated” and told The Associated Press that he believes the FCC is on the wrong side of the matter.
“Right now, the FCC is officially on the side of blackouts,” Pai said via ProFootballTalk. “We should be on the side of sports fans. The FCC shouldn’t get involved in handing out special favors or picking winners and losers. And in my view, there is no reason for the FCC to be involved in the sports blackout business.”
The FCC proposed eliminating the blackout rule eight months ago, but at that point, they were only looking to start a conversation about it. Now, Pai wants the rule to be repealed, and he only needs the support of two of his four colleagues.
The NFL has already said that they would “strongly oppose” the elimination of the rule, but there isn’t much they can do about it if it gets the FCC’s support. But they’ll try.
The league is essentially threatening to take games off of free television if the rule is repealed. But as ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio put it, “If the NFL ever undermines the availability of games on a national basis via free TV, the broadcast antitrust exemption would be repealed almost instantly, destroying the ability of the NFL to sell its TV rights on a collective basis.”
NFL blackouts rarely happen nowadays, anyway. Under today’s rule, teams have more freedom to decide what counts as “premium seating,” and if they don’t meet the sell-out requirements, wealthy owners often buy out the remaining seats so their fans can watch their team at home.
Photo via Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports Images