Eliminating the Blackout Rule

Published October 3, 2014

The Federal Communications Commission’s Sports Blackout Rule of 1975 basically dictates that, for NFL football games, a blackout occurs when a team does not sell a certain percentage of its tickets within 72 hours prior to the game.   In other words, if there aren’t sufficient ticket sales, the game won’t be aired.

According to reports from forbes.com, usatoday.com, and politico.com, this rule was directed only at cable and satellite television providers.  The rule had no jurisdiction over local television stations. Rather, those broadcasts could be negotiated directly between the NFL and the local television station. In most cases, however, there isn’t much ‘negotiating’. The NFL holds most of the bargaining power, and still chooses to blackout games with insufficient ticket sales, even on a local broadcast level.

On September 30th, the Federal Communications Commission repealed the Sports Blackout rule. Satellite and cable television providers (like ETC) are now permitted to contract with sporting teams to televise local games, even when the game may not have sold a pre-determined percentage of tickets.

What does this mean for the future of blackouts? While it may initially seem that a blackout ‘repeal’ is a win for fans, the effects of the ruling are still to be determined. Will cable or satellite networks be willing to forge ahead and broadcast a game even if it is blacked out from a local broadcast?   Can they afford to broadcast? And will the cost to do so justify the fight? Time will tell.