FCC Media Bureau Chief Bill Lake told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FCC no longer has rules backing the practice of blacking out sports telecasts, but that the leagues still have blackout power. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) had something to say about that.
Lake testified that the rule was deemed no longer necessary, Noting that professional football is the sport primarily at issue when blackouts are the topic, he said its presence on broadcast television was contractually guaranteed through 2022 and the FCC had no reason to suspect that would change.
McCain wants the leagues to finish the job the FCC started and end the practice of blacking out games.
Discussing the FCC action, McCain said, “However, the FCC’s vote was not the final word on sports blackouts, failing to address the root causes for a majority of blackouts. Indeed, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out shortly after the vote in September: “[E]veryone needs to be aware of who allows blackouts to exist, and it is not the Federal Communications Commission.” The spotlight is now squarely on the leagues themselves and their own rules and practices, the most infamous being the NFL rule that requires blackouts when a home game does not sell out at least 72 hours before kickoff.”
He added, “This is an issue that must be addressed by the league itself; and, if the NFL fails to show leadership, then through congressional action.”
McCain concluded with a promise to address the situation if the leagues do not. “We have been chipping away at these rules for some time, but there is still much work to be done. This year, Senator Blumenthal and I introduced the FANS Act, aimed at eliminating the various causes of sports blackouts. This legislation would condition the NFL and other leagues’ antitrust exemption on ending blackout practices, including in those circumstances when standoffs during contractual disputes between broadcasters and cable and satellite companies result in blackouts. We would strongly prefer that the league take the initiative itself, and demonstrate leadership by reforming anti-consumer policies and practices. But let’s be clear, should the league fail to act, we will do everything we can do stand up for consumers by advancing the FANS Act and other initiatives.”