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Fans, Senators Ask FCC To Scrap Sports Blackout Rule

A coalition of fans and five U.S. senators are urging the Federal Communications Commission to scrap its so called Sports Blackout Rule. The policy allows the NFL to block local broadcasts of games that don't sell out.

The rule has been in place since 1975, and the Sports Fan Coalition says it is outdated and "fan-unfriendly."

Broadcasting & Cable reports on the filing, which was entered with the FCC on Monday:

"'In the name of maintaining the availability of sports, the Commission ironically perpetuates the practice of restricting the availability of games on various video platforms through the Sports Blackout Rule,' they argued.

"'The leagues are at the root of the problem because they currently charge exorbitant prices for tickets, which in turn results in lower attendance,' said the coalition. 'The leagues then punish fans by blacking out games from television because a few seats remain unsold, under the theory that doing so will help ticket revenues and avoid television images of empty seats.'

"They also make the point that sports leagues enjoy public subsidies through taxpayer-funded stadiums, infrastructure to get to those stadiums, tax exemptions and more. 'The public should be able to watch the games that they helped to finance.'"

The Fan Coalition got some backing today Democratic senators. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio asked the FCC to put an end to the rule.

"These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans," the senators said, according to Bloomberg. "That many of these stadiums were constructed or remodeled using taxpayer dollars underscores the disservice done to fans by blackouts."

The NFL and the National Association of Broadcasters defended the rule. Both organizations, according to the AP, made similar arguments saying that eliminating the rule would just mean that the NFL would take its broadcasts to pay TV.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.