NFL blackout rule in dispute – serves no financial purpose but lingers on

The most significant discussion of NFL blackouts in 40 years is taking place right now. Given the fact that the NFL’s blackout rule punishes disabled, poor and elderly fans and the fact that the rule doesn’t even work, it’s long past time the rule was eliminated.

According to NFL rules, if a game is not sold out within 72 hours, the television broadcast is blacked out in the local market. The Federal Communications Commission then steps in and says that if local broadcasters can’t air a game locally, then neither can cable or satellite companies.

These blackouts happen despite the fact that the NFL is making hand over fist and will earn $6 billion per year from its television contracts starting in 2015.

In 2011, the Chargers had 2 home games blacked out, Buffalo lost three games; Tampa missed out on five games and Cincinnati was unable to watch six of its team’s eight home games.

In January, the FCC agreed to review its 36-year-old blackout rule in response to a petition filed by Sports Fans Coalition and other prominent public interest groups. On February 13, the initial deadline for public comments, formal comments were filed by Sports Fans Coalition, the NFLMLB, the National Association of Broadcastersfive U.S. Senatorsseveral top sports economists (who said “blackouts have no significant effect on ticket sales in the NFL”), and over4,000 individual fans around the country.

via Brian Frederick


In the petitions filed, the NFL still supports blackouts (“supports contractual provisions”), while the MLB petitioned to get rid of the rule.

Five Senators also petitioned in opposition, they are – Senators Stabenow (MI), Harkin (IO), Blumenthal (CT), Brown (OH), and Lautenberg (NJ).

Finally, nine sports economist petitioned in opposition with the following reasoning:

Research on the economics of sports and broadcasting lends no support to the concerns that have been expressed by the NFL and broadcasters. There is no evidence that the current blackout practices of the NFL have a significant effect on attendance, revenues, profits and the allocation of television rights between over-the-air and MVPDS broadcasters.

Blackout rules were created in the mid 20th Century, before professional sports attained its current popularity and financial stability. Steady growth in demand for both attendance and television rights have caused dramatic increases in ticket prices, television rights fees, revenues and profits, especially in the NFL.

The NFL‟s defense of blackout rules hinges on their financial significance, yet the available evidence indicates that these rules have at best a very minor effect of the NFL‟s financial performance.

As stated by Commissioner Goodell, the NFL sees blackouts as a means for “driving people to … stadiums.” Blackouts have no significant effect on ticket sales in the NFL and increase no-shows only when the weather is bad.

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