FCC Votes To Drop NFL Blackout Rule: ‘Our Job Is To Serve The Public Interest’

C.J. SpillerWASHINGTON — For years, football fans have bemoaned the rule barring NFL home games that haven’t sold out from being televised in the local market.

Well, you can’t blame the government anymore.

The Federal Communications Commission voted Tuesday to end the 1975 rule with a push from its chairman.

“We at the FCC shouldn’t be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV,” said Chairman Tom Wheeler. “It’s time to sack the sports blackout rule.”

The vote won’t actually end blackouts, which are written into the NFL’s private contracts with broadcast and cable companies. But it means responsibility for blackouts now lies entirely with the NFL and its television partners, not the government.

Last year, only two NFL games were blacked out in local markets: The Cincinnati Bengals against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego on Dec. 1 and the Miami Dolphins vs. the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo on Dec. 22.

Even so, the NFL launched a lobbying campaign against the blackout repeal.

The rule has barred cable-TV stations from televising games in metro areas where those games were being blacked out on local TV. The league warned that without this rule in place, it would move more games to pay cable and away from free over-the-air broadcasts on local television stations.

The FCC commissioners were unmoved. They noted that the NFL makes plenty of money selling old-fashioned broadcast rights.

What’s more, the NFL’s TV contracts don’t expire until 2022, so it couldn’t do anything for eight years. In the meantime, Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league executives have extolled the benefits of airing games on free TV. This year, they moved some Thursday night games to CBS from the cable channel NFL Network.

The blackout rule is a vestige of a bygone era, when the NFL was hardly today’s wildly popular money-making machine. When the rule passed nearly four decades ago, just 40 percent of NFL games sold out, and teams relied on ticket sales for most of their revenue.

Now, it’s 99 percent.

“Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said.

Photo via Kevin Hoffman/USA TODAY Sports Images

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