Why you can't show the NFL on Saturday.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Sept. 14 2004 4:28 PM

The (Other) NFL Blackout Rule

Why you didn't see the Dolphins-Titans game live.

The Miami Dolphins' season opener against the Tennessee Titans—a 17-7 loss for the Ricky Williams-less hosts—was moved from Sunday to Saturday, to ensure that Hurricane Ivan wouldn't interfere with the game. The game wasn't broadcast nationally, even to DirecTV customers who subscribe to the $219 NFL Sunday Ticket package. A league spokesman said that the NFL was merely trying to "operate within the spirit" of a 1961 federal law on sports broadcasting. What does that law say, exactly, and why did Congress see fit to meddle in televised pigskin?

The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 clearly states that professional football games cannot be telecast on the days traditionally reserved for high-school and college contests, at least for the lion's share of autumn. The law's language is specific in regards to when progams cannot be aired:

On any Friday after six o'clock postmeridian or on any Saturday during the period beginning on the second Friday in September and ending on the second Saturday in December in any year from any telecasting station located within seventy-five miles of game site of any intercollegiate or interscholastic football contest scheduled to be played on such a date.

The law's big qualifier is that the college or high-school games in question must have been announced in "a newspaper of general circulation" before Aug. 1.

This bit of athletic protectionism traces back to the days of the NFL's competition with the rival American Football League. Struggling to get the upper hand in the spring of 1961, the NFL took the then-unusual step of selling league-wide TV rights to CBS. But in July, a U.S. District Court ruled that the contract violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, since the deal prevented the individual teams from "determining the areas within which telecasts of games may be made."

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, an astute lobbyist, quickly mobilized to push Congress for an antitrust exemption, arguing that small-market teams like the Green Bay Packers could survive only if the league "pooled" its TV rights. Congress was mostly happy to capitulate, save for a number of representatives who worried that the budding NFL would diminish interest in college and high-school football. Rozelle was keen to have the legislation pushed through in time for the fall season, and so his congressional allies made the compromise regarding the Friday night and Saturday broadcast bans. The act became law less than three months after the court decision voiding the CBS pact.

Although the law was clearly Rozelle's handiwork, the antitrust exemption for broadcasting was also extended to professional baseball, basketball, and hockey. Yet none of those other sports was made subject to the sort of broadcast embargo that the NFL faces; that section of the act addresses only football.

Unfortunately for fans, the act has also been interpreted as supporting the NFL's right to enforce a "blackout policy," whereby the home team's games aren't shown locally. For over a decade after the act's passage, the home team's games weren't televised even if the stadium was sold out. But in 1973, Congress passed a law requiring that the blackout be lifted if the game was sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff. Although that law sunsetted in 1975, the NFL has adhered to the 72-hour policy ever since.



Crying Rape

False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Can Never Remember Anything

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B

How Will You Carry Around Your Huge New iPhone? Apple Pants!

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

No, New York Times, Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman” 

Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 1:39 PM Shonda Rhimes Is Not an “Angry Black Woman,” New York Times. Neither Are Her Characters.
Sept. 19 2014 11:33 AM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 1:56 PM Scotland’s Attack on the Status Quo Expect more political earthquakes across Europe.
Sept. 19 2014 12:09 PM How Accelerators Have Changed Startup Funding
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 1:11 PM Why Men Never Remember Anything
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 2:44 PM Where Do I Start With Mystery Science Theater 3000?
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 12:38 PM Forward, March! Nine leading climate scientists urge you to attend the People’s Climate March.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 12:13 PM The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola  The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.