FCC rules no more NFL blackouts

The NFL can’t seem to catch a break these days.

The Federal Communications Commission did away with the sports blackout rule Tuesday. That means cable and satellite TV providers can begin airing games regardless of how many tickets have been sold. The NFL says the blackout rule is necessary to ensure attendance at games remains high.

In a unanimous 5-0 vote, the commission eliminated the regulation that was implemented in 1975. Regulators and many lawmakers say it unfairly punishes football fans.

“It’s a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games — period,” Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “For 40 years these teams have hidden behind a rule of the FCC. No more. Everyone needs to be aware of who allows blackouts to exist, and it is not the Federal Communications Commission.”

With the NFL’s highly publicized problems with domestic violence among some of its star players, and a renewed focus on the leagues tax status and anti-trust exemption, the FCC ruling is the equivalent of a sack that sets up a 4th and long. But if the NFL’s statement immediately following the ruling is any indication, the league intends to stay on offense.

“NFL teams have made significant efforts in recent years to minimize blackouts,” the NFL responded in a statement Tuesday. “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.”