FCC Debates Dropping Local Sports Blackout Rule

The agency may abandon its rule forcing cable and satellite networks to black out sporting events based on low ticket sales

The FCC is considering dropping its nearly 40-year old rule that forces cable and satellite networks to black out local sports telecasts that local TV stations can’t air because of insufficient ticket sales.

Acting Chairman Mignon Clyburn announced the FCC’s reexamination of the rule, citing sports leagues’ ability to negotiate their own protections and a desire to give fans more choices.

“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games,” she said in a statement.

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The FCC rule was originally crafted when teams got most of their revenue from local ticket sales. It ensured local stations wouldn’t be hurt if games they couldn’t air locally were carried nationally by cable networks.

The National Association of Broadcasters in a statement Friday expressed concern about the change. It said that while the blackouts covered by the FCC rules are “exceedingly rare,” it was concerned dropping the rule might fuel further migration of free sporting events to cable and satellite channels.

“Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”