FCC wants comments on changing sports blackout rules

The Federal Communications Commission Media Bureau is asking for comments on a petition for rulemaking asking the agency to eliminate its sports blackout rules that prevent multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) from carrying a game if it is blacked out on local TV stations.

The petitioners, which include the Sports Fan Coalition, Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, National Consumers League and League of Fans, told the commission that it should do away with the rules because they impede the access of consumers to local sports events, "particularly with ticket prices and unemployment at their current highs."

According to the commission, the petitioners also said "sports leagues could privately negotiate the same results that the rule affords," thus making the FCC rules unnecessary. Additionally, the commission has the authority to make the change, the petitioners said.

The commission is seeking comment on the petition. Responses to the petition are due Feb. 13 and replies are due Feb. 28.

FCC commissioner Robert McDowell released a statement on the agency's website calling the re-examination of the rules "appropriate" in light of the changing marketplace and expressed pleasure with the decision of the Media Bureau to request comment on the petition.

"Taking a fresh look at this 36-year-old rule could be constructive as we look for rules to streamline and modernize. Over almost four decades, the economics and structure of both the sports and communications industries have experienced dramatic evolutions. We now live in a world with not only local broadcast stations, but also cable, satellite, the Internet and wireless, and where television and merchandizing revenues exceed ticket sales," he said in the statement.