By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
September 16, 2014
Last week, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in an op-ed column, “The FCC shouldn’t be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It’s time to sack the sports blackout rule for good.”
I couldn’t agree more. 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/cash machines, and the government-sanctioned monopoly status the league enjoys, 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.
“For decades, the NFL has literally held its fans hostage by the blackout rule,” said consumer advocate Ralph Nader, who has long fought against the blackout rule. “‘Either you sell out each game, or you do not get to watch,’ the league says. It’s exciting that this anti-consumer practice appears on the verge of extinction.”
Talk about abusive. NFL owners, most with franchises worth a billion dollars or more today, threaten to move their teams unless local taxpayers fund new sports palaces/cash machines for their pro football teams. Once the taxpayers build the sports palaces/cash machines, the less-than-thankful owners hold a gun to taxpayers’ heads with the television sports blackout rule.
Basically, the government-sanctioned blackout rule allows NFL owners to say, “Build us sparkling new sports palaces -with lots of luxury suites and clubs seats — or we’ll move the franchise to another city. Also, once you build it, you must sell-out every home game – regardless of the quality of the product – or we’ll remove the games from local television.”
Wheeler said the full commission will vote on the future of the blackout rule at the end of the month.
“The NFL should no longer be able to hide behind government rules that punish loyal fans, which is why I am sending to my fellow commissioners a proposal to get rid of the FCC’s blackout rules once and for all,” wrote Wheeler in his op-ed. “It fulfills a commitment I made in June. We will vote on the proposal on September 30.”
Regarding the sports blackout rule, thousands of everyday sports fans, a half dozen public interest advocates, nine nationally ranked sports economists, multiple U.S. Senators and House Members, academics, business associations, and other industry stakeholders have told the FCC: blackouts hurt fans, don’t spur attendance, and shouldn’t be supported by the federal government.
To that point, in a filing with the FCC, a group of economists had this to say about sports blackouts:
“Academic research supports the conclusion that local television blackouts have little or no effect on ticket sales or attendance for the game that is being televised. Local blackouts of home games harm consumers without producing a significant financial benefit to teams.”
In effect, the sports blackout rule is a misguided financial strategy with bad PR ramifications for NFL owners. The decades-old blackout strategy is nothing more than a wedge that is driven between the team and long-time fans who cannot afford to regularly attend NFL games at stadiums their tax dollars built.
Here’s hoping the FCC commissioners stay strong and don’t succumb to ongoing pressures from the NFL to maintain the blackout rule and vote to formally end this anti-consumer rule at their public meeting on Sept. 30th.
Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
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Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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