This week, the NAB filed comments with the FCC opposing efforts by the Sports Fans Coalition to eliminate sports blackout rules. The coalition also submitted 4,155 individual comments from fans calling on the commission to end the blackout rule.
The Sports Fans Coalition is run by Brian Frederick (as executive director), who previously worked as a senior editor at Media Matters for America. It was set-up to end television blackouts. The NAB said it reportedly received funding from Verizon and Time Warner Cable.
The NAB told the FCC commissioners that elimination of these rules would “harm local broadcasters and localism” and “could accelerate the migration of popular sports programs from free to pay TV.” The rules, along with network non-duplication and syndicated program exclusivity rules, provide “the foundation for local broadcast program exclusivity,” the NAB said.
The coalition got the support of five U.S. Senators who called for an end to the blackouts. Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Sherrod Brown, Tom Harkin, Frank Lautenberg and Debbi Stabenow wrote, “we believe it is time for the NFL’s blackout policy to come to an end.”
They also addressed Major League Baseball’s “Byzantine set of broadcast restrictions that results in blackouts,” as well as the retransmission consent disputes that frustrate fans.
“Sports are an important part of American culture and a multibillion dollar industry. When sporting events are blacked out, whether due to league policy, contract dispute, or the sports blackout rule, fans are the losers,” the senators wrote. “We urge the FCC to take a broad look at sports blackouts and to consider comprehensive reform that ensures fans’ access to sports programming.”
The NAB said none of these rules creates exclusivity on their own. “Instead, they merely prevent pay TV operators from circumventing the exclusivity agreements through technology and the distant signal compulsory license on which these operators rely,“ the NAB said.
“Advertisers on local broadcast stations expect—and pay for—this exclusivity. If the Commission were to curtail broadcasters’ ability to enforce that exclusivity, it would weaken broadcasters’ capacity to attract advertising, thereby reducing their ability to pay for popular programming generally and to invest in local programming specifically.”
If the FCC were to grant the Sports Fans Coalition’s petition, the NAB argued, “fewer sports events would be accessible to all viewers, as sports fans would be required to pay for televised access to local games because those games would no longer be available free, over-the-air.”
The NAB said broadcasters understand and sympathize with fan frustration over sports blackouts. “Ideally, no blackouts would ever occur. But elimination of the FCC’s rules would not solve the problem, as Congress has codified sports leagues’ rights to blackout home games,” the NAB said.
One of the fans signing the petition, Frank Adams from Florida, framed the arguments this way: “If the pro team accepts public financing to build the facility to play games, thus benefiting ownership, the community has paid for the right to see the games on TV,” Adams wrote. “Don’t use predatory strategies to gouge consumers above their level to afford after taking our money to build them a stadium.”