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Football Penalty Flag

Three cheers for the FCC

Posted 30 September 2014 12:00 AM by Cindy Earehart Rinker

The onerous Blackout Rule, an NFL-promoted regulation that blacks out games if the games are not sold out 72 hours prior to kick-off, was spiked Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission in a unanimous vote.

We wrote here earlier this season about how the regulation protects the interests of the NFL, but not the fans. At that time there were rumblings that change could be on the way, but few predicted it would happen this season.

As we quoted in the previous blog post, Commissioner Ajit Pai called the rule outdated and in need of repeal or updating and called on the chairman to ask the five commissioners to vote on it. And vote they did.

This regulation from the 1970s has long created problems for cable and satellite TV providers. When a customer is angry about a game being blacked out, who do you think hears about it? We do. Try to explain the Blackout Rule to someone who is sitting on his couch, wearing his team jersey and ready to watch some football.

Just because the FCC has eliminated this rule, however, does not mean there will not be some blacked out games. What it means is that the NFL no longer can point to FCC sanctioning to do so. There exist contracts between the NFL and local broadcasters developed during negotiations for carriage rights that supersede this decision.

But the government does not seem satisfied to stop with the Blackout Rule. There is a bipartisan bill in the Senate called the FANS Act, sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and John McCain, which calls for the removal of the NFL’s antitrust exemption if the league refuses to end blackouts.

As the leaves start to change and the breeze grows more brisk, it is traditional for some to focus on football. This year, however, the glare from the spotlight also is exposing other outdated rules and regulations.

In this particular game, the score is FCC 5 and NFL 0.

Cindy Earehart Rinker, a football widow who likes a good college game now and then, is a marketing supervisor at Shentel.