Sports Fans Speak Out Against NFL Blackout Policy

A recent petition by the non-profit advocacy group Sports Fan Coalition (SFC) is requesting that the FCC overturn an NFL policy originally instated in 1975 that mandates local NFL games be kept from TV broadcasting within a 75-mile blackout radius if that game doesn’t sell out.

Fans and critics claim this policy is hitting economically depressed areas the hardest and is especially unfair in cities where football stadiums are largely funded by tax dollars; the fact that sports fans feel strongly enough to unite in order to implement policy change supports the idea that this NFL policy is outdated and thus unfair.

The SFC writes in their petition, dated Nov. 11, that “the Sports Blackout Rule supports blatantly anti-fan, anti-consumer behavior by professional sports leagues.” The group also states on their website that other advocacy groups have joined with them in support of this petition to end the decades-old rule affecting NFL broadcasting of local games. The NFL policy states that if a local game does not sell out 72 hours prior to the start of that game, then all local stations, cable providers, and satellite providers must blackout the broadcast of that game within a 75-mile radius of the stadium. As of two years ago, the NFL has been showing blackout games on nfl.com in affected local regions free of charge.

One main argument against the blackouts is that an obvious conflict exists for such a policy to be maintained by the NFL over stadiums which are largely funded by tax dollars. The Wall Street Journal cites one recent example, the Bengals' stadium in Cincinnati, which cost taxpayers $500 million dollars. The costs used for football stadiums covered by city funds are justified by the fact that these arenas will be primarily serving the city residents, through obvious economic factors related to game days, and once these stadiums are up-and-running the only policy that should be a priority is that checks are in place so that games are accessible and stay affordable for local residents.

Regardless of whether the NFL blackout policy should stay or go, it seems that most major teams are able to keep their stadiums sold out through management strategies; the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, and Pittsburgh Steelers all are examples of teams that have managed to sell out all season tickets since before the NFL blackout policy went into effect.

The NFL is in a unique position to show the fans that they care more about the fans than money; this opportunity is made more visible by the recent NBA lockout talks that have put television broadcasting of the sport on infinite hiatus as sports fans, who currently live with the economics of an #OccupyWallStreet world, are left scratching their heads as corporate bigwigs negotiate over million of dollars in revenue. While groups like the SFC may not have the business know-how needed to adequately assess the possible financial implications of reversing the NFL blackout policy, their voice is an ardent representation of the rejection many sports fans are experiencing while talking heads dictate how we experience a priceless American pastime.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon