The FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Wednesday recommending an end to the sports blackout rules, which prevent cable and satellite providers from carrying professional sporting events when local broadcast stations are required to black out the events pursuant to contracts with the NFL and other leagues.

The NFL blacks out the television broadcast of home games in a team’s home territory that are not sold out 72 hours in advance of game time.  This year, two NFL games have been subject to the attendance blackout:  the Cincinnati Bengals @ San Diego Chargers in Week 13, and this Sunday’s Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills game.

The NPRM follows a January 2012 Public Notice and November 2011 Petition for Rulemaking filed by a coalition of consumer and public interest groups, including the Sports Fans Coalition and the Media Access Project.  The petitioners contended that, particularly when combined with high unemployment rates and high ticket prices, the blackout rules prevent consumers from accessing local sporting events.  The petitioners also argue that the rules are unnecessary because sports leagues could privately negotiate with cable and satellite providers to achieve the same results as the rule affords.   In the NPRM, the Commission states that “[c]hanges in the sports industry in the last four decades have called into question whether the sports blackout rules remain necessary to ensure the overall availability of sports programming to the general public.”

The NFL told Politico Thursday that it “will strongly oppose any change in the rule” and that “the blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds.”

Comments are due Feb. 24, 2014, and replies are due March 25.

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