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FCC Spikes NFL Broadcasts Blackout Rule

The league can no longer black out local broadcasts without stadium sellouts

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed its sports blackout rules in a ruling Monday. The action eliminates the Commision’s protection of the NFL’s 39-year-old blackout policy, which prohibited local stations to broadcast a game that had not sold a certain percentage of tickets at least 72 hours prior to kickoff.

The Commision’s decision, however, does not guarantee that the league will put an end to blackouts as the NFL will still be allowed to continue its private policy. If it decides to continue with blackouts, the NFL will have no FCC backed protection and will have to explore other options in order to protect their distribution rights in the private marketplace.

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The NFL warned prior to this ruling that should FCC blackout rules be eliminated, the league could explore the possibility of broadcasting more games on pay TV rather than on free broadcast television.

Monday’s Order though finds that the NFL, whose current contracts with the networks extends through 2022, is unlikely to move games to satellite and cable.

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When blackout rules were first adopted in 1975, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and very few NFL games were sellouts. Now, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the league’s biggest money-making venture. Also, blackouts have become increasingly rare as attendance at NFL games has continually risen throughout the years.

“The NFL is the most profitable sports league in the country, with $6 billion in television revenue per year, and only two games were blacked out last season,” explained a statement from the FCC.