The National Football League has been in the news quite a bit these day, and not for the reasons that executives at the sports league would have wanted. In fact, through the first four weeks of the NFL season, the headlines have been almost exclusively off-field related. Thankfully for the NFL, the latest news making waves has nothing to do with domestic abuse, child neglect, or the mishandling of policies. Instead, it’s something that might have a totally different effect on its bottom line.
Thanks to a ruling from the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday, the FCC has ended their “blackout rule” for NFL games. These “blackout rules” allowed NFL teams to keep their games off local television in the event that ticket sales at their stadiums did not sell out. This was done in order to entice local fans to show up to their local stadiums and purchase tickets, rather than watch from the comfort of their homes.
However, as Daniel Kaplan of the SportsBusiness Journal points out via this article on Bleacher Report, this does not automatically mean that the NFL will no longer black out their games. Instead, it means that the league can no longer claim that the blackout is due to FCC restrictions. It is being reported in that same article that the NFL was not in support of this change.
According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, the NFL responded to the ruling by stating “NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts. The NFL is the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television. The FCC’s decision will not change that commitment for the foreseeable future.”
It is unclear that these blackout rules have done anything to persuade fans into buying tickets for their local teams. What is clear, however, is the only four cities have had their games blacked out in the last few years. Each of these teams is in a traditionally small market, media wise.
As Edward Wyatt of the New York Times points out in this article, “Now a majority of teams’ revenue comes from television rights, and barely a handful of games are blacked out each season. In 2013, two of the NFL’s 256 regular-season games were blacked out. In 2011, 16 games were blacked out locally, all of them happening in one of four cities: Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Diego and Tampa Bay.”
As we mentioned earlier in the article, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the NFL will not black out games, as they legally have the right to do so. The ruling only removes FCC support. There may be serious issues that the NFL faces if they black out games though. According to this article on Cincinnatti.com, if the NFL continues to black out games without FCC approval, they could lose their broadcast antitrust exemption.