The FCC enacted the rules in 1975 to help broadcasters and the NFL: Regulators say that if a sports league requires a TV station to black out a game — usually a football match that isn’t sold out — then cable and satellite distributors can’t offer it in the community either. But that may not serve the public interest “at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games,” Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn says today to explain why she circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to possibly scrap the rules. How much impact would that have? Possibly little. It wouldn’t prevent sports leagues, broadcasters and pay TV providers from “privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events,” she says. Indeed, the FCC notes on its website that the rules are “rarely involved in the sports blackouts you may have experienced” because they’re almost all due to contract terms between sports leagues and distributors.
The National Association of Broadcasters agrees that FCC-mandated blackouts are “exceedingly rare,” but it still doesn’t want regulators to dump the rules. If a sports event could appear on pay TV, but not a local station, it might “hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms” and “erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community,” EVP Dennis Wharton says.