Higgins Announces FCC Ruling Calling for the Repeal of Sports Blackout Rules
Dec 18, 2013
FCC Calls Blackout Rules “Obsolete” and “No Longer Necessary”
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) hailed a ruling by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which calls for the repeal of existing federal policies that contribute to the televised blackout of professional sports.
“For the last 40 years fans that have supported their hometown teams through their patronage and tax dollars have been unfairly shut out of watching games,” said Congressman Higgins. “With today’s ruling by the FCC we end the federal role in this unfair process and add momentum and public pressure to a full-scale end to sports blackouts.”
In November the FCC Chair first proposed the elimination of federal regulations that support sports blackouts after an extended public comment period. Yesterday the board of commissioners issued their support for that proposal.
In a report issued today, the FCC concludes in part:
“We propose to eliminate the sports blackout rules. With respect to professional football, the sport most affected by the sports blackout rules, it appears from the existing record that television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the most significant source of revenue for NFL clubs in the 40 years since the rules were first adopted. Moreover, the record received thus far indicates no direct link between blackouts and increased attendance at NFL games… Thus, it appears that the sports blackout rules have become obsolete. Accordingly, if the record in this proceeding, as updated and supplemented by commenters, confirms that the sports blackout rules are no longer necessary to ensure the overall availability to the public of sports telecasts, we propose to repeal these rules.”
This week’s Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins game is the latest to fall victim to the blackout rules, preventing dedicated fans from watching the game locally. Congressman Higgins, whose district is home to the Buffalo Bills, has been vocal in his opposition to the outdated blackout policies. Below is a brief history of the Congressman’s involvement.
- January 2012: Higgins Asks FCC to Change the Rules on NFL Blackouts
- February 2012: Higgins Leads a Letter Opposing Blackouts, Speaks on House Floor
- February 2012: Higgins Meets with Buffalo Fan Alliance Leader
- February 2012: Higgins Urges FCC to End NFL Blackout Policy
- May 2012: Higgins and Buffalo Fan Alliance meet again
- May 2012: Sports Fans Honor Higgins as “Most Valuable Policymaker”
- June 2012: Higgins, Buffalo Fan Alliance Say Fans Are the Winners as NFL Changes Blackout Policy
- July 2012: Higgins Urges Bills to Opt-In to New Blackout Policy
- July 2012: Higgins along with Senators Brown and Blumenthal send a letter to the NFL with concerns about the blackout policy.
- August 2013: Higgins sent a letter to the FCC pushing them to make a ruling on the sports blackout rule.
- November 2013: Higgins supports FCC Chairman’s proposal to scuttle blackout regulations.
Most recently, Congressman Higgins introduced the FANS Act, the House of Representatives version of a bill introduced by Senators Blumenthal and McCain in the Senate.
The FANS Act:
- Removes the antitrust exemption that allows the NFL to blackout home games if they don’t sell out tickets
- Doesn’t allow cable companies to use the threat of blackouts as leverage in contract negotiations
- Asks leagues to make home games available on the Internet when a game is not available on television through broadcasters or subscription channels
- Applies the antitrust laws to Major League Baseball
The NFL has a policy of blacking out games that are not sold out to the home market. A 1961 federal law requires broadcasters (networks) to abide by the League’s blackout policy. In January 2012 the FCC opened up a public comment period on a long-time FCC rule that requires cable or satellite providers to honor the blackout rule if it applies to the local affiliate it carries.