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Television Blackout Rule for Pro Sports Events Faces FCC Review

U.S. regulators asked whether they should void a television blackout rule that stops cable and satellite companies from showing professional sports events that lack a sellout crowd.

The Federal Communications Commission in an e-mailed notice today called for comments on a petition filed by five groups that said the rule dating to 1975 “supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior.”

The rule prohibits cable and satellite companies from carrying sporting events blacked out on local broadcast television stations to promote home-game attendance.

The FCC’s decision to take comments is “obviously very welcome news for sports fans,” Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fans Coalition that signed the petition, said in an interview. “This is an unnecessary government regulation, and I hope after our conversation with them they see just how anti-consumer and anti-fan this rule is.”

The group, concentrating on blackouts of National Football League games, cited a blacked out home game by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Houston Texans.

This season, 95 percent of NFL games were being shown in their local markets, up from 90 percent last season, Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the league, said in an e-mail today.

The Washington-based Sports Fans Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group for fans, accepts funding from Time Warner Cable Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., David Goodfriend, a spokesman for the coalition, said in an interview in November.

Also joining the Nov. 14 petition were the Washington-based policy groups Public Knowledge and Media Access Project; the National Consumer League, which says it works for economic justice for consumers; and the League of Fans, a sports-reform project founded by consumer advocate Ralph Nader.

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