Clyburn takes on TV sports blackouts


Mignon ClyburnThe FCC has been telling interested legislators that it was close to issuing a recommendation on sports blackouts, and the results are in – Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn is circulating an NPRM eliminating FCC rules on the matter.

According to Clyburn, the door remains open for privately negotiated blackout agreements, but the FCC’s involvement will be over should the measure be adopted.

A movement is under way to eliminate the non-profit tax-exempt status of the National Football League in part due to its policy of blacking out local television on games that fail to attract a high level of ticket sales.

Clyburn stated, “Today, I circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking proposing to eliminate the Commission’s nearly 40-year old sports blackout rules.

She continued, “Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games.  Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.

Clyburn concluded, “Nevertheless, if the record in this proceeding shows that the rules are no longer justified, the Commission’s involvement in this area should end.”

NAB’s Dennis Wharton urged caution on the matter. “Sports blackouts are exceedingly rare, and NAB dislikes these disruptions as much as our viewers. However, we’re concerned that today’s proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”