By Ken Reed

I think a lot of reporters and consumer advocates are jumping the gun on this week’s FCC proposal to end blackout restrictions on pro sporting events. I don’t think the FCC action does anything for the fans yet — and it may never do anything for them. The reality is that even if this week’s FCC proposal becomes a final decision, the NFL and their network partners can still put blackout clauses in their TV deals.

Basically, my feeling on the sports blackout issue is that given all the tax advantages the NFL gets as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, along with all the taxpayer-funding NFL owners receive to build their sports palaces, and the NFL’s government-sanctioned monopoly status, fans need to be treated more justly in a lot of ways, but particularly when it comes to television blackouts. NFL games should not be blacked out. Period.

However, this week’s FCC proposal specifically states that networks and sports leagues would retain the right to privately negotiate blackout restrictions. This is likely what the NFL and its partner networks will do. In effect, for sports fans, nothing would change.

This needs to be cleaned up. All loopholes allowing leagues, networks and league franchises to continue a blackout policy of any type should be removed in any new FCC rule. If not, the favorable treatment the government gives the NFL should end.

The only possible light at the end of the tunnel here is that instead of fans blaming some FCC rule for sports blackouts, they could blame the local NFL franchise, the league, and the networks for conspiring to put a blackout clause in their television contracts. By shaming the NFL and its franchises, the league could take a pretty big PR hit. Whether that hit is big enough to stop them from negotiating their own blackout rules in television contracts I don’t know.

But I doubt it.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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