The Federal Communications Commission today unanimously voted to eliminate its sports blackout rules, challenging the National Football League to end its own policies that sometimes prevent fans from watching home games on TV. “Today’s FCC action makes clear: if leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam’s help,” said David Goodfriend, an attorney and lobbyist who founded a group called the Sports Fans Coalition that fought against the rules.
Sports fans who want to see their local teams play on free, over-the-air television are often stopped in their tracks by a little-known rule that forces them to the stadium — or to not watch at all. It’s colloquially called the “blackout rule,” and if some federal regulators get their way Tuesday, this rule might be going the way of the dodo. The blackout rule goes something like this: If a stadium fails to sell out for a given game, then the game can’t be shown on broadcast TV — nor, by extension, on cable and satellite TV providers in the same area who carry that broadcast content. It affects a lot of pro football games, which is why it’s also sometimes called the NFL blackout rule. The idea is that encouraging people to go to games in person helps support the NFL financially.