FCC's Proposal Probably Won't End Sports Blackouts

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
Read More.
a | A

The Federal Communications Commission has voted unanimously in favor of a proposal to end blackout restrictions on professional sporting events. The final decision will come later after a public comment period.

The proposal, introduced by then-acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in November, seeks to end the 40-year rule that prevents networks from broadcasting games that fail to sell out in-person. According to Clyburn, the prohibitive cost of tickets in a struggling economy makes it difficult for fans to attend games and raises "questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest."

The national broadcasters who would be affected by the rule's elimination have already decided it would be against the public's interests while looking out for their own. Last month, the National Association of Broadcasters expressed fear that without blackout restrictions, sports would increasingly move away from free, over-the-air networks to pay-TV channels.

Have no fear, NAB: The proposal specifically states that networks and sports leagues would retain the right to privately negotiate similar restrictions, meaning nothing will really change for either broadcasters or, unfortunately, viewers. Instead of blaming the FCC for not being able to watch low-attendance Buffalo Bills games, you'd have to blame the team itself. This isn't a step toward progress -- it's the government trying to avoid being painted as the bad guy.

The true villains in this case are the teams and leagues, who will no doubt continue the status quo at the expense of the consumer. After the NFL announced last year that it was easing its blackout restrictions starting this season, several teams, including the Cincinnati Bengals, the San Diego Chargers and the Bills, refused to go alongwith the offer to air games that were considered "sellouts" at 85 percent capacity.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Kavitha A Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net