The Federal Communications Commission has voted today to eliminate the sports blackout rule, a FCC rule that prohibits cable and satellite television providers from showing a National Football League game in its home market if it is not sold out 72 hours prior to its start time.
"I applaud the FCC's decision to vote to eliminate the sports blackout rule," said Congressman Brian Higgins. "I urge the NFL and television networks to follow suit and allow dedicated fans to watch the teams they love."
"The sports blackout rule unfairly harms consumers by punishing fans in cities with large stadiums and declining populations," said Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal. "The FCC did the right thing today by removing this antiquated rule, which is no longer justified by facts or simple logic. Even as the NFL made millions upon millions of dollars off of broadcasting rights, they continued as recently as this season to threaten fans with unnecessary blackout restrictions. Today, the FCC officially threw a flag on the NFL's anti-fan blackout policy."
Matt Sabuda, co-director of the Buffalo Fan Alliance, said "Congressman Higgins has been at the forefront of fan advocacy long before there were cameras or notoriety for the issues. Bills fans are lucky to have that kind of representation as his tireless effort is paying off."
"This is a historic day for sports fans," said David Goodfriend, chairman of Sports Fans Coalition and a former deputy staff secretary to President Bill Clinton. "Since 1975, the federal government has propped up the NFL's obnoxious practice of blacking out a game from local TV if the stadium did not sell out. Today's FCC action makes clear: If leagues want to mistreat fans, they will have to do so without Uncle Sam's help."
Ending the sports blackout rule has long been a top priority of Higgins. His commitment to ending the blackout rule began in 2012 when the FCC opened a public comment period on a proposed elimination of the sports blackout rule. Higgins submitted a letter and encouraged Western New Yorkers to participate, as well.
Later that year, he led several of his congressional colleagues in sending a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting an end to the league's policy of game blackouts in home team media markets. Earlier this September, he was joined by five senators in writing to the FCC urging it to bring an end to the policy.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai joined Higgins in Buffalo where he publically confirmed his support for a repeal of the blackout rule.
Higgins argued the blackout rule disproportionately hurts smaller communities such as Buffalo. As one of the largest stadiums in the NFL, Ralph Wilson Stadium has seating for more than 73,000.
While repeal of the FCC rule is a first step, additional action must be taken by the NFL or broadcasters to ensure fans are not blacked out from watching local games. Toward that effort, Higgins has introduced H.R. 3452 the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports Act, which would eliminate the alleged anti-trust exemption he said enables the NFL to blackout sporting events locally when the game has not sold out in advance. Sens. Blumenthal, D-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have introduced the same bill in the Senate.