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

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