Congressman joins senators in push to end sports blackouts
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, introduced H.R.3452 the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports Act of 2013, the House of Representatives version of a bill backed by senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the Senate.
In remarks Thursday on the House Floor, Higgins said, in part, "In my home community of Western New York, there is a threat of a blackout for the next two home games. This means that, despite overwhelming community support, money spent on merchandise, and tax dollars being spent for stadium improvements, Buffalo fans will not be able to see their hometown NFL team on television. ... Blackout rules are unfair, outdated and alienate fans. I will continue to fight until sports teams do the right thing for their fans."
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; and
•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. On Jan. 12, 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.
Last year, NFL owners passed a resolution allowing teams to decide to broadcast games locally when more than 85 percent of the seats are filled, but not all teams opted into this policy.
On Nov. 1, Federal Communications Commission acting chairwoman circulated a notice of proposed rulemaking recommending elimination of the nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules.
Following up on that announcement, this week Higgins and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, sent a letter to the FCC, asking it to follow through with the Nov. 1 proposal and issue a final rule eliminating the FCC blackout rule.
Higgins has been outspoken against blackouts:
•In August of this year, he sent a letter to the FCC pushing it to make a ruling on the sports blackout rule.
•In January 2012, Higgins submitted a formal comment to the FCC and also urged Western New Yorkers to participate in the public comment period.
•In February 2012 Higgins also led several of his congressional colleagues in sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking for the league to end its policy of game blackouts in home team media markets.
Ralph Wilson Stadium, home to the Buffalo Bills, is one of the largest in the NFL, with seating for 73,000. Therefore, the Bills must sell 6,000 more tickets than the league average to avoid a blackout.