FCC Kills NFL Blackout Rule Giving CBS, FOX, NBC More Power

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The NFL blackout rule is dead, and with it the power that professional football team owners had to prevent a game from being locally televised if ticket sales failed to reach a certain threshold.

The unanimous decision Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission removed government protection of the NFL's 39-year-old blackout rule, and with it handed the networks -- CBS (CBS) , Fox (FOXA) and Comcast (CMCSA) -owned NBC -- the final say as to whether a game wouldn't be televised within a 75-mile radius if non-premium tickets weren't completely sold out 72 hours before kickoff.

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The NFL, the country's most profitable professional sports league with some $6 billion in annual television revenue, is likely the big loser in this decision given that the networks have had little incentive to pull games they've paid billions of dollars to broadcast. The fans, well, they're the winners. Fans shouldn't have to suffer even if games aren't worth the price of attending, or a local team is badly managed.

Blackout critics says the FCC's vote sent a clear message to the owners.

"Sports fans have finally scored one against the leagues," Brian Frederick, an adjunct professor of sports industry management at Georgetown University, said in an e-mail. "The free ride they've received for decades is over."

"It's time for the NFL and the other leagues to stop abusing fans with blackouts and high ticket prices," added Frederick, author of Upset!: How Sports Fans Beat the NFL and Ended the Sports Blackout Rule and board member of Washington, D.C.-based fan lobbying group the Sports Fans Coalition.

As the FCC emphasized in its decision, blackouts declined precipitously in 2013. Only two games were blacked out in all of last season. That's because a year ago, the NFL allowed teams the option of calling games "sellouts" at 85% capacity and keeping them on local television. That reduced blackouts and shifted blame for them from the league to its individual owners.

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