Why is the NFL still blacking out games?

Editor’s Note: Senator John McCain is a Republican representing Arizona and Senator Richard Blumenthal is a Democrat representing Connecticut. The opinions expressed in this commentary are theirs.

Story highlights

McCain, Blumenthal: NFL game blackouts are unfair to fans

They say FCC should vote to end rule that permits the blackouts when stadiums aren't full

NFL already benefits by laws that enable it to be a nonprofit, they say

Point: Blacking out games doesn't help ticket sales

CNN  — 

This weekend marks the kickoff of what millions of Americans have been looking forward to since the final minutes of Seattle’s Super Bowl victory in early February – another football season.

Players, primed and ready, will take to the field, inspired to make their mark on the new season. Loyal fans, football-starved from a long offseason, will tune in to cheer on their hometown teams. No one can avoid the nervous energy that defines the start of a new season.

But one thing fans should never have to worry about is whether or not this week’s game will be impossible to watch due to a TV blackout.

It is unfortunate that we will kick off yet another football season with federal rules on the books that serve only to protect the leagues at the expense of sports fans.

John McCain
Richard Blumenthal

One of these rules is the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) sports blackout rule, which prohibits a cable or satellite company from carrying a game that is blacked-out within the local broadcast area. While this affects leagues beyond the NFL, it occurs most often when, under the NFL’s rules, a home game does not sell out at least 72 hours before kickoff.

Under the FCC’s sports blackout rule, cable and satellite companies are unable to televise that game in the local broadcast market, leaving local fans in the dark.

While the blackout rule was originally cast as a way to encourage ticket sales, this rationale is no longer supported by the facts. The FCC is aware of this and voted unanimously last December to propose elimination of the rule, acknowledging that the record does not support the argument that blackouts increase ticket sales and that “the sports blackout rules have become obsolete.”

The comment period for this change concluded long ago, and the well-developed record clearly supports erasing the blackout rule from the books. But we are still waiting on the commission to cast a final vote.

We wrote FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler in June, urging him to bring the rule to a final vote before the start of the new NFL season and he indicated the FCC will do so by “early fall.”

That time has now come, another season is upon us, and there is no reason to further delay. This is not a partisan i