For years, professional sports and blackouts have gone hand-in-hand. No, not those blackouts; broadcast blackouts of games that failed to sell out. But the times, they are a changin’.

In November of last year, the JETLaw Blog reported that the FCC was reviewing its policy on blackouts. Most sports blackouts are the result of privately negotiated agreements between the leagues and broadcast rights holders. As lucrative as advertising and broadcast deals are, leagues still want fans in the seats first and foremost. The blackouts were meant to incentivize attendance of live games: unable to watch on television, fans would be more likely to purchase tickets.

The FCC rules protected these private agreements by prohibiting cable or satellite broadcasters from airing events that were blacked out on the local station. In other words, the FCC stopped cable and satellite providers from circumventing the private agreements between the leagues and local broadcasters. The FCC reasoned without strong protection of intellectual property rights, the leagues would choose not to broadcast games at all – the rationale for copyrights in general.

In practice, however, observers have long questioned whether local blackouts actually increase game attendance. With ticket prices skyrocketing and the economy lagging, both the leagues and the government have faced pressure to reevaluate the blackout rules. Despite ardent opposition from the leagues, the FCC concluded that its blackout policy is no longer necessary to ensure that games are broadcast at all. So, effective November 24, the FCC rule is no more. Going forward, fans may still experience blackouts, but they will be the result of private agreement, not government prohibition.

As the CommonLawBlog reports, the immediate impact of repeal will be negligible. But the decision could have more far-reaching consequences as a small victory in the cable and satellite operators ongoing battle to change the entire sports broadcast regime.


Michael Griffin

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