Momentum builds to return access to games to the fans
Standing with Congressman Brian Higgins in Buffalo Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Ajit Pai announced his support for eliminating the FCC's sports blackout rule.
"The time has come for the FCC to repeal its sports blackout rule," Pai said. "There is no reason for the FCC to be in the sports blackout business. We should be on the side of sports fans instead."
In home markets, the NFL has a policy of blacking out local broadcast television stations games that are not sold out. A 1975 FCC rule requires cable companies to abide by the league's blackout policy (the FCC later extended the rule to satellite companies). In late 2013, the FCC asked the public to comment on whether it should end the sports blackout rule.
"The 40-year-old sports blackout rule is unfair, antiquated and harmful to fans that have backed their hometown teams through their support and tax dollars," Higgins said. "Commissioner Pai's announcement builds momentum toward the goal of ending sports blackouts once and for all."
Higgins has been advocating for repeal of the rules since 2012. Last month, he wrote to the FCC and spoke from the House Floor urging the FCC to make a final ruling against government support for sports blackouts.
Bradley Blakeman, a member of the board of directors for the Sports Fans Coalition, and Del Reid a member of the of the Buffalo Fan Alliance, president of Buffalo FANbase and co-founder of #BillsMafia, also attended Pai's announcement, representing sport fans' opposition to the blackout rule.
Blakeman said, "Congressman Higgins and FCC Commissioner Pai are sports fans' MVPs - 'Most Valuable Policy Makers,' for their leadership in seeking to end the sports blackout rule. It is time that the NFL and other sports leagues let the marketplace decide best practices and not government."
"This FCC response to the public commentary is a significant step towards eventually coming up with a solution that will be a good fit for both the NFL and its fans," Reid said.
Higgins said that, while repeal of the FCC rule would be a good first step, additional action must be taken by the league or broadcasters to ensure fans aren't blacked out from watching local games. Toward that effort, Higgins has introduced H.R. 3452, the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act, which would eliminate the exemption that enables the NFL to blackout sporting events locally when the game has not sold out in advance. The same bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).