For decades the NFL TV blackout policy has kept fans in local TV markets from watching their home team play if the game hadn’t sold out 72 hours in advance. Fans haven’t especially liked the NFL’s TV broadcast policy. Turns out, neither does the FCC.
The FCC has just flagged the NFL TV blackout policy — and others in the NBA, MLB and NHL — as “unsportsmanlike conduct” and overruled their legality.
Blackout policies have had two consequences for nearly four decades. The first kept local TV stations from broadcasting NFL games that hadn’t sold out at least 72 hours in advance. You may recall one Green Bay Packers game last year that sold out on gameday due to frigid weather.
Under the NFL TV blackout policy, that game couldn’t have been shown on local TV even though fans were just using common sense.
The other consequence of blackout policies kept pay-TV providers such as cable stations and satellite companies from broadcasting any game that was blacked-out on a local station. Once again, fans got the rub.
With its ruling, the FCC said the blackout policies across all professional sports, not just the NFL, were “unnecessary and outdated regulations.” That paves the way for both of those consequences to finally be things of the past.
It doesn’t guarantee that outcome, however. Major League Baseball currently has a private blackout policy that works for them but doesn’t have legal protection. When the NFL broadcast TV contracts with FOX, CBS and NBC expire in 2022, the NFL could currently go that route and jump exclusively to cable and satellite. Considering the money at stake, though, such a jump isn’t likely.