If you’ve ever tried to turn on your hometown NFL team, only to have the game blacked out because the stadium wasn’t full, you don’t have the Federal Communications Commission to blame anymore. The FCC voted unanimously on Tuesday to eliminate the decades old blackout rule that prohibited the airing of NFL games on cable and satellite that were not sold out, and therefore not being shown on local stations.
“The action removes Commission protection of the NFL’s current private blackout policy, which requires local broadcast stations to black out a game if a team does not sell a certain percentage of tickets to the game at least 72 hours prior to the game,” the FCC said Tuesday in a statement. The change should be barely noticeable for most NFL fans, as the league has virtually eliminated blackouts in recent years. Last year, the league sold out 99 percent of its games and only two of 256 games went unaired, according to ESPN. That’s in stark contrast to decades past; in the 1970s half of all NFL games were blacked out.
The FCC addressed these changes in the economics of the league:
The Order finds that the Commission’s sports blackout rules are no longer justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry since these rules were first adopted nearly forty years ago. At that time, ticket sales were the primary source of revenue for the NFL and most NFL games failed to sell out. Today, television revenues have replaced ticket sales as the NFL’s main source of revenue, and blackouts of NFL games are increasingly rare. The NFL is the most profitable sports league in the country, with $6 billion in television revenue per year, and only two games were blacked out last season.
The NFL, however, strongly opposed the change. “While the N.F.L. and its supporters argued that eliminating the blackout rule would endanger the availability of games on free over-the-air television, members of the F.C.C. staff and commissioners said they believed that was unlikely, in part because the current N.F.L. broadcast contract extends through 2022,” the New York Times reports. “The N.F.L., under its agreement with broadcast networks, will still be able to black out a game on broadcast TV. But because of the F.C.C. vote, a cable provider could show a blacked-out game in a market where the broadcast version is blocked.”