NFL Blackout Rule Under Review By FCC

The FCC is considering a petition from fan interest groups to rescind the NFL television blackout rules. They are accepting comments on the petition in an effort to determine whether to change the 35-year old rules.

Although the NFL is a highly popular entity in America, complaints remain about the way they business. Two of the biggest complaints are the television blackout rule and personal seat licenses. The blackout rule was instituted when the NFL derived most of its money from ticket sales and the financial potential of television was not even on the radar. Since 1975, the NFL has had the power to order blackouts of a local game if the stadium did not sell out.

The rule is now under its most significant attack to date and may not be long for this world. The FCC has officially begun the process of considering a new rule that would rescind the television blackout rule. In November 2011, five public interest groups submitted to the FCC a petition for rulemaking that would eliminate the sports blackout rule (PDF). On Thursday, the FCC submitted a public notice calling for comments about the petition (PDF). These are the first two steps in a lengthy process.

The FCC will consider new rules either through statutory mandate, agency identification of a problem, or a public petition. In this case, five groups submitted a public petition. The groups include Sports Fans Coalition, Inc., Public Knowledge, National Consumers League, League of Fans and Media Access Project.

The FCC has reviewed the petition and is now providing an opportunity for interested parties to submit comments on the matter. The FCC will accept responses to the petition until February 13, 2012. Replies to those responses will be allowed until February 28, 2012. This potential change in rules will receive comments from across the sports world, and not just from the NFL. Although the rule-change is aimed at the NFL, this has the possibility of impacting all four major sports.

After February 28, the FCC will review the comments and evidence submitted for and against changing the rule. Although they could simply rescind the blackout rule, the FCC reserves the right to "evaluate a range of possible substantive alternatives for fixing the problem. For example, [the FCC] may consider whether there are less burdensome alternatives than prohibiting certain behaviors; [the FCC] may decide that requiring the disclosure of certain information by industry would achieve the agency's objectives."

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