FCC Nixes Decades-Old NFL Blackout Rule
But 5-0 vote against regulation doesn't necessarily mean all blackouts will end
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 30, 2014 2:12 PM CDT
Football fans may be happy to hear that the FCC repealed its sports blackout rule.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Football fans may still experience occasional blackouts of local NFL games on TV—but it won't be because of the FCC anymore. In a unanimous 5-0 vote today, the commission repealed a law that has been in place since 1975 to prevent cable and satellite television providers from showing games on local stations if stadium attendance is too low, the Wall Street Journal reports. The FCC says the rule is "outdated," that most teams make their money off of TV rights (not ticket sales), and that barely any games are blacked out anymore anyway, the New York Times reports. "The federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games—period," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says.

NFL blackouts—which, under the FCC rule, banned local stations from airing games if "fewer than 85% of seats [had] been sold 72 hours before kickoff"—may still take place if the NFL and individual broadcasters agree, or if there are "negotiating disputes" between broadcasters and pay-TV services, Politico reports. The NFL argues that by keeping the blackout rule in place, it ensures that football won't be forced to head to pay TV to make up for lost revenue from lagging ticket sales. "The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television," the league says in a statement cited on ESPN. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai refutes that, though, telling Politico, "There is no way that this can happen anytime soon. … By moving games to pay TV, the NFL would be cutting off its nose to spite its face." (The NFL has had a lot on its plate lately.)