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Following Petition from Public Knowledge, FCC Votes to End Sports Blackout Rule

September 30, 2014 ,

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted 5-0 to repeal the sports blackout rule.

Currently, the NFL will not allow broadcasters in a team’s home market to air games that have not sold out. This unfriendly practice is a matter of private contract between the league and the broadcasters, restricting what a sports fan can watch in the process. The FCC’s sports blackout rule prevented cable systems from carrying those games, as well. Although the repeal of the sports blackout rule is no guarantee that cable viewers will be able to see blacked-out games, now the NFL will have to arrange for blackouts solely through private contracting. The rule applies to any sports league, but only the NFL currently blacks-out games on local broadcast.

The vote follows a petition Public Knowledge filed with its allies that argued the FCC should end this archaic rule as an unnecessary intervention in the marketplace on behalf of the NFL, one of the most powerful sports leagues in the world.

The following statement can be attributed to John Bergmayer, Senior Staff Attorney at Public Knowledge:

“We’re pleased that our petition, the voices of sports fans and TV viewers, and the evidence has persuaded the FCC to act on the public’s behalf. Private parties should not be able to use government regulations as an excuse to limit fans’ access to their local teams.

“It took bipartisan action to end this outdated rule. Although the entire Commission deserves praise for recognizing sports blackouts as anti-consumer, Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Pai should be singled out for their leadership.

“The NFL and broadcasters might still be able to use private contracts to restrict viewer access to programming, but it should be clear that these restrictions are driven by business considerations and not public policy. The NFL should take this opportunity to rethink its policy on blackouts entirely.”