NAB: Sports Blackout Rule Changes Will Drive Sports to Pay-TV

WASHINGTON—The FCC’s proposed elimination of the sports blackout rule could drive major league sports off broadcast television and onto Pay-TV, warns the NAB. Among other limits, the current rule allows the NFL to blackout games on local TV in certain markets until a certain percentage of tickets in those markets have been sold.

The Association’s strong response came after FCC Acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that could end the decades-old blackout rules.” The FCC is doing this because “Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest,” Clyburn said in a statement. She cited high ticket prices and the poor economy as reasons for possibly ending TV blackouts.

The NAB is no fan of sports blackouts, said NAB Executive Vice President of Communications Dennis Wharton. “However, we're concerned that today's proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports,” Wharton said in an NAB statement. “Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community."

Speaking on background, an NAB source said that eliminating sports blackouts could motivate major league sports teams to move currently over-the-air games to Pay-TV. This would effectively blackout the game locally – boosting potential game ticket sales to broadcast TV viewers – while giving the teams and cable/satellite TV providers a way to make money from Pay-TV customers.

The NAB’s fear is in line with Clyburn’s statement that, “Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.”

James Careless is an award-winning journalist who has written for TV Technology since the 1990s. He has covered HDTV from the days of the six competing HDTV formats that led to the 1993 Grand Alliance, and onwards through ATSC 3.0 and OTT. He also writes for Radio World, along with other publications in aerospace, defense, public safety, streaming media, plus the amusement park industry for something different.