Sports Blackout Rules

July 25, 2012

The NFL has a blackout policy that instructs that home games cannot be televised in the team’s market unless the game is sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff. 2012 WLNR 799311

F.C.C. rules support this policy by prohibiting cable and satellite broadcasters from televising a game that has been blacked out by local broadcast stations. 2012 WLNR 799311. These rules, originating in the 1970’s, have garnered a fair amount of criticism. The policy was originally created to encourage ticket sales in a time when revenue was dependent on filling stadiums. 2012 WLNR 14139244. But many are arguing that this reasoning is less relevant today, since the NFL gets significant revenue from advertising. It is also argued that because sports teams now receive significant taxpayer subsidies to build and maintain stadiums, blackout rules are increasingly unfair.

An organization called the Sports Fan Coalition recently filed a petition requesting the elimination of the F.C.C. sports blackout rules. The F.C.C. then requested commentary on the petition. I found the petition in our Federal Communications content on WestlawNext. I tracked it down by doing the following:

From the WestlawNext home screen, I started typing “Federal Communications Commission.” As I type, WestlawNext starts suggesting “Looking for This?” content underneath the search box. “Federal Communications Commission (FCC)” is one of the options and I chose that by clicking on the link provided. I then used the “Advanced” search template.

In the “All of these terms” box, I entered:

COMMENT

In the “This exact phrase” box I entered:

SPORTS BLACKOUT RULE

I then clicked the orange “Advanced Search” button.

Because I know the comment request occurred relatively recently, once my result list appears, I used the “Sort By” dropdown box to rank my results by Date rather than relevance.

In my list of results, I notice the Comment Request right away (2012 WL 92224), just a few entries down. I also notice several other relevant documents, such as the F.C.C. Commissioner’s statement regarding the comment request (2012 WL 122404).

Time will only tell what will happen in the future regarding the F.C.C. blackout rules, and related NFL policies. The NFL very recently approved a relaxation of their blackout policy, allowing for local broadcasting of games where as little as 85% of tickets are sold. 2012 WLNR 13769718.