Two Senators urging FCC to issue a ruling on sports blackouts

The bane of every sports fan is the dreaded blackout rule. Major League Baseball has confusing rules where one market can be blacked out from as many as five games. Trying to explain this would be as painful as discussing the Infield Fly Rule.

The most frustrating blackout rule is the National Football League's where a game is blacked out within a 75 mile radius from the home market if it is not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff. This rule has been in place in the 1970's and it has been considered harmful to struggling teams. In recent years, markets like Buffalo, Cincinnati, Oakland, San Diego and Tampa-St. Petersburg have seen multiple blackouts per season.

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While the NFL eased the restrictions last season, some teams still had trouble selling out their games in time to lift their blackouts. 

Two U.S. Senators want to change that and are asking the Federal Communications Commission to take action on the Sports Blackout Rule immediately. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) have written a letter to acting FCC Chairperson Mignon Clyburn to make a ruling on Sports TV Blackouts saying a petition on the matter has been with the agency for over a year. 

Back in 2011, the Sports Fan Coalition asked the FCC to lift the rule saying action would be in the interest of the fans and expand "the availability of sports to the public…"

A new FCC Chair is about to take over for Clyburn and Senator Blumenthal has already pleaded with nominee Tom Wheeler to act on the rule. It's not known whether the FCC will take action on the Senators' request.

There has been threats to the NFL from Congress about revoking its antitrust exemption over the blackouts, however, they have never gotten past the proposal stage. The last real threat to the NFL was in 2006 when the late Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania proposed a bill to repeal the exemption over the NFL Network's Thursday Night Football schedule and its then-lack of availability. Despite grandstanding by Senator Specter, the bill did not reach the Senate floor. 

And while this latest effort by Senators Blumenthal and McCain may seem like another case of Déjà Vu, perhaps it could force the FCC to finally take some action to lift what has become a very antiquated and extremely frustrating rule to sports fans across the country. 

[Broadcasting & Cable]

Ken Fang

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013. He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television. Fang celebrates the three Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.

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