The Federal Communications Commission voted this morning to eliminate the controversial blackout rule. The rule, which mainly applies to NFL games, says if 85 percent of tickets aren’t sold, teams can prevent local broadcasts of games.
If NFL teams decided to impose the rule for a game, free local TV couldn’t broadcast it. The rule further said cable and satellite TV couldn’t air it locally, either.
The NFL didn’t want the blackout rule eliminated. It has said that without the rule, it could just move all its games to cable, putting them out of reach of low income fans who can’t afford cable.
“The NFL is doing a lot of posturing here,” says Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College. He says NFL teams can still tell broadcasters and cable outlets to black out games. It doesn’t need the FCC to do that. “The NFL can still negotiate to black out the game whenever there’s a deficiency in attendance. So we’re unlikely to see any appreciable effect here.”
And, Zimbalist says, if the NFL did try to move all its games onto cable, it would violate a law called the Sports Broadcasting Act, which was designed to keep games on TV.