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NFL Blackout Backlash Deserves Thanks

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- We are nearly 13 weeks into the National Football League season and the league has managed to air every game in its home market. One would think that would be a regular occurrence for a league with nearly $10 billion in revenue and an average ticket price of more than $80, but in the modern NFL it's a holiday miracle.

Last season, the NFL had taken 12 games off the air in their home markets by Week 13 with the help of its blackout rule. The simple rule of thumb was that if a team didn't sell out a game 72 hours before kickoff, that game had to go off the air on any station broadcasting from within a 75-mile radius of the home team's stadium. That rule's origins date back to the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 that helped establish the league's antitrust exemption, but the NFL hasn't had a blackout-free year since tweaking that rule in 1972 to add the "72 hours before kickoff" stipulation.

That's roughly 40 seasons in which fans of at least one NFL franchise -- but usually more -- have been unable to watch at least a portion of their home team's season despite funneling tax dollars to almost every NFL stadium built during that span. With every game televised so far this season, however, the NFL's owners are doing what fan groups and elected representatives couldn't. They're undermining the rule they've long considered vital to maintaining their stadium attendance and keeping those seats nice and full for all the TV cameras.

So why the sudden change of heart? Credit a multi-fronted assault on blackouts that NFL owners seem to realize they can't win. Earlier this year, Arizona's Republican Senator and former presidential nominee John McCain introduced legislation that would prevent the NFL from blacking out home games played in stadiums built with public money. A full 30 of the NFL's 31 stadiums have had a portion of their costs paid for with tax dollars.

It cost an average of $525 million to cover each of 20 NFL stadiums built since 1997, according to a Minnesota study looking into the likely costs of a new stadium for the Vikings. says that 56% of those stadium costs -- or roughly $238 million per stadium were paid for with public funds. That's nearly $4.8 billion in tax dollars spent on NFL stadiums alone, but economists estimate that continued costs including maintenance, infrastructure and renovations dip into more tax money and force the public to pay upward of 70% of a stadium's cost.
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