NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Remember the news stories from your youth?
A local National Football League franchise risked losing local broadcasting rights for a game if there wasn't a sellout within 72 hours of game time. A generation ago, this was a big deal.
With no other way to watch the game, aside from being there, but on TV, how would people get to cheer on their team if there was a blackout? In the years before ESPN's SportsCenter and smartphones, this caused public panic. The media would run stories about the number of seats needed to be sold and there would be community efforts to ensure that a blackout didn't happen.
But that was a different era. The notion of blackout had long become irrelevant, leading the National football League to announce on Monday that it would suspend the blackout rule for the 2015 season. According to the league, it will then re-evaluate the policy.
Here's a little bit of insight: The rule won't come back ... ever. That's partly because it's what the federal government wants, and it's partly because the rule just doesn't seem to matter anymore.
Start with the latter. Most games are sold out anyway. Second, revenue from tickets -- although still substantial -- is now a much smaller percentage of overall revenue. With the billions coming from the likes of Walt Disney's (DIS) - Get ReportESPN,21st Century Fox' (FOXA) - Get ReportFox, (CBS) - Get Report, DirectTV (DTV) and Verizon (VZ) - Get Report, the millions in ticket revenue are nothing to turn away but stadiums could probably be empty and the team could still operate at a profit.
Limiting a fan's options and risking backlash is not worth trying to maximize the value of a few thousand empty seats. It just doesn't make sense.
According to the NFL, the numbers support the move. Last season, there wasn't a single blackout. The season before, just two. Twenty years ago, more than a third of league games were blacked out.
Then there's the issue of technology. The blacked-out fan may have DirectTV or NFL Mobile on Verizon. The fan will get the game anyway, so why close an opportunity for viewing what's already been paid for by the television networks?
Say, a Jacksonville Jaguars fan was blacked out because the team stinks and no one is going to see the home games. He or she goes out and pays $200 for NFL Sunday Ticket on DirectTV. Is that revenue really worth possibly alienating the other fans in the market?
When the cost-benefit analysis is done, the answer is simple: No. Then, there's the more likely -- and more compelling -- reason for this move: the federal government.
Last fall, the Federal Communications Commission ruled the league could no longer black out games that were not sold out. Legally, the NFL could have kept the policy because of contracts already signed with its broadcast partners.
But why mess with the Feds when the league still has tax-exempt status? The answer is almost as simple as the fan question: Don't mess with the federal government when it helps the league clear billions in collective profits. As for the timing, well, the FCC ruling came down when the season already was underway. Now the season is over and the owners are meeting in Phoenix, Arizona.
Tanned, rested, checks deposited from 2014, it's the perfect time to make a decision that makes everyone happy: Fan, feds, networks etc. Next year, when the owners are comparing billion-dollar franchise values at the next off-season owners' meeting, they will come out and say the blackout rule is gone for good.
It's about as assured as a Bill Belichick scowl at a news conference.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.