Senators encourage NFL to drop blackout rule

Posted at 3:52 PM, Dec 04, 2014
and last updated 2015-11-29 15:52:52-05

The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary hosted a hearing Thursday on the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act.

If passed, the bill would remove the National Football League's anti-trust exemption, which allows the league to regionally black out the broadcast of games on television if the home team does not sell enough tickets. It also asks the NFL to live stream games online when they are unavailable for broadcast.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal and John McCain. A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Brian Higgins of Buffalo.

Senators brought up Buffalo frequently at the hearing, because Ralph Wilson Stadium has a large capacity of almost 74,000 seats. In order to sell out, the Bills must sell the equivalent of 28% of the local population. In larger cities, the percentage is smaller. For instance, only 2% of the local population is needed to sell out a game in Chicago.

Earlier this year, the FCC voted to stop enforcing the NFL blackout rule, but the commission cannot force the league to end blackouts because the policy is written into private contracts between the league and broadcasters.

Gerard Waldron, attorney for the NFL, testified at the hearing on behalf of the league. Waldron warned that an end to the blackout rule may not be in the best interest of fans, because he claims it increases the likelihood of games being dropped altogether from free, over-the-air television in favor of cable and satellite television.

No NFL games have been blacked out yet this season.