FCC might sack NFL blackout rules

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler stated in an op-ed that appeared in USA Today that the agency could do away with NFL blackout rules.

The blackout rules that were instituted back in 1975 were intended to force football fans to buy tickets and actually show up at the games rather than stay at home and watch the games on TV. If enough people (or corporations) bought tickets then the games could be broadcast locally – if not, then nobody could watch the games on TV.

Wheeler stated that, “With the first weekend of professional football in the books, two things should be abundantly clear. The NFL is king; and the Federal Communication Commission’s sports blackout rules are obsolete and have to go.”

Wheeler went on to state, “The bottom line is the NFL no longer needs the government’s help to remain viable, and we at the FCC shouldn’t be complicit in preventing sports fans from watching their favorite teams on TV. It’s time to sack the sports blackout rules for good.”

Wheeler contends that the NFL already makes tons of money from television revenues (probably much, much more than they do from ticket sales) and they don’t need the government to help them eke out a few additional dollars.

I think that television viewers already pay for their virtual tickets when they subscribe to cable or satellite services, and again when they watch the ads (and presumably buy the products they see). Blacking out games must cost the NFL and the individual teams a fair bit of money and it also punishes local fans.

The more games that are blacked out, the more animosity is generated against the team, the broadcasters and the NFL.

I always wondered if there would be a way to build a sports complex somewhere in the middle of the country with a dozen stadiums where all the teams would play every weekend (perhaps even have games every day of the week). It would save money on travel, nobody would suffer jet lag, broadcast equipment could be permanently installed and wouldn’t have to be dragged around from stadium to stadium. And no games would be blacked out. Fans could still show up to the games if they wanted to and while it might be more expensive than driving to the local stadium the NFL could offer special fan travel packages where they could attend multiple games in a single trip.

We might lose some of the tailgating and the ‘being there’ experience but most people in the U.S. don’t live close enough to an NFL stadium to make traveling to games worthwhile. And some of us would rather not fight the traffic, the drunken fans or the $35 cold hot dogs.

At least Wheeler is beginning to sound like a reasonable person these days.