WASHINGTON, DC – Despite the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s recent unanimous vote to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule, a 1970s-era regulation which allows the NFL to black out broadcasts of a local sports game when the game does not meet a sellout threshold, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Sunday playoff game may be blacked out due to lack of ticket sales. Last month, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown urged the FCC to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule. And at the urging of Brown, the FCC last year released a petition calling for the agency to open the Sports Blackout Rule for public feedback, which was the first step in repealing the regulation.
“While the FCC’s recent unanimous vote to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule is excellent news for fans and taxpayers across Ohio and across the country, the NFL should do everything it can to ensure that the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday’s playoff game is not blacked out,” Brown said. “This is unacceptable at a time when the price of attending games continues to rise and the economy is not yet where it needs to be. Fans, through local taxes, often help pay for the stadiums. They should be able to cheer on their local teams, especially during the playoffs.”
The NFL is the world’s most profitable sports league; the average game this season has attracted 16.8 million viewers; and 19 of the 20 most watched television programs have been NFL games. Despite this, blackouts have kept fans in Ohio and across the country from watching their home team. According to a recent article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals executives do not expect to sell out Sunday’s game against the San Diego Chargers. The NFL hasn’t blacked out a playoff game since 2002. Under the NFL’s policy, home stadiums for teams like the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, would enforce local blackouts if at least 85 percent of seats were not filled within 72 hours of kickoff. This is despite Paul Brown Stadium costing local taxpayers $450 million and the City of Cleveland being required to contribute $850,000 a year to the repair budget for FirstEnergy Stadium.
Brown continued to fight on behalf of fans and taxpayers. In July 2012, Brown urged the league to remove the financial penalty for teams that choose to air games that have not sold out. Brown joined U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-27) in writing a letter to FCC Chairman Wheeler expressing concerns about the recent-announcement and calling for revision of the blackout policy.
Brown’s November letter to the FCC can be read in its entirety below:
The Honorable Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
I would like to thank the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for reexamining its current blackout rules for National Football League (NFL) games. The blackout rule is an outdated vestige, and I ask that the FCC strongly consider revising this rule.
When the NFL blackout policy was adopted roughly 40 years ago, NFL franchises were concerned that broadcasting local games would hinder attendance and gameday revenue. But the economic realities for teams and their fans have changed drastically since 1973. Meanwhile, the National Football League is the most profitable sports league in the world. This season, the average game has attracted 16.8 million viewers, and 19 of the 20 most watched television programs have been NFL games. But every season, blackouts keep fans across the country from watching their home team.
According to media reports, in the 2012 season, television contracts brought in double the revenue of ticket sales and contributed substantially to teams’ average $1.1 billion worth. Just as teams are making more from their broadcasts, attending games has become less affordable for local fans. The average NFL ticket now costs $82, an increase of 3% over the 2012 season and more than double 1993 ticket prices.
In July 2012, I wrote to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking the League to revise its blackout policy. As you know, the NFL continues blackouts of games in a team’s home market when ticket sales do not meet a set threshold 72 hours before the game begins. Yet, due to the League’s popularity among fans, the blackout only affected 15 games last season. While the effect on those fans is great, the blackout’s impact on League finances is small.
Sports fans make significant financial investments in their home teams through local, county, and other taxes and should not be denied access to a local game because they cannot afford tickets. As the FCC considers revising the current blackout policies, it should carefully weigh the economics of game attendance for sports fans and the changing financial interests of professional sports teams.
The current blackout policy does not serve taxpayers, sports fans, or networks. I urge the FCC to act immediately to ensure that sporting events remain accessible to millions of supportive fans.
Sherrod Brown Brian Higgins
United States Senator Member of Congress