The agency followed through today on an effort launched last month by then-Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn: It released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that invites public comment before it eliminates the rules adopted in 1975 to help broadcasters and the NFL. They say that if a sports league requires a TV station to black out a game – usually a football game that isn’t sold out — then cable and satellite distributors can’t offer it in the community either. “The sports industry has changed dramatically in the last 40 years…[and] the economic rationale underlying the sports blackout rules may no longer be valid,” the notice says. When the rules were adopted about 59% of the NFL’s regular season games were blacked out due to failure of the games to sell out. But the FCC observes that in 2011 just 6% were blacked out, and just in four cities: Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Tampa Bay. Also, TV payments have become much more significant than gate receipts to most teams’ revenues. Activist group Public Knowledge’s Senior Staff Attorney John Bergmayer says that the FCC’s “needless policies restrict what viewers can watch, and what programming cable systems can carry, in the name of protecting local broadcasters from competition and boosting ticket sales to sporting events.” But the National Association of Broadcasters EVP Dennis Wharton warns that without the rules “the FCC proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports.”
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