FCC May Pull Regs on TV Sports Blackouts

     WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Communication Commission's requested comments, Friday, on its plan to pull its sports blackout rules because they are no longer needed.
     Under the existing regulation, sports events cannot be broadcast in an area where a home game is taking place. The event also cannot be picked up in non-blackout areas by multichannel video programming distributors, like cable or satellite, and retransmitted within a protected blackout zone.
     The FCC originally feared that the practice might cause leagues to increase the blackout zones, limiting access to viewers. So the agency issued the existing regulation to prevent the leagues from blacking out all broadcasts and ensuring sports telecasts continue to be available to the public "to the greatest extent possible," the agency said.
     For sports franchises, particularly in the NFL, the aim was to protect gate receipts, at one time the main source of revenue.
     The market has changed, however, and the FCC questions whether its blackout policies are still relevant.
     "With respect to professional football, the sport most affected by the sports blackout rules, it appears from the existing record that television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the most significant source of revenue for NFL clubs," the agency said.
     The FCC says only about 20 percent of revenue for NFL teams comes from ticket sales and that blackouts can alienate fans.
     "During the 2011 NFL season, only 16 out of 256 regular season games, or six percent of games, were blacked out," according to the action.
     The FCC added there is no evidence that blackouts drive more fans to stadiums and that leagues other than the NFL, for the most part, are not directly affected by the regulations.
     "The record received thus far indicates no direct link between blackouts and increased attendance at NFL games. The record also suggests that the sports blackout rules have little relevance for sports other than professional football because the distribution rights for most of the games in these sports are sold by individual teams, rather than the leagues."
     The FCC said the blackout issue might better be addressed between the leagues, teams and broadcasters themselves.
     "It appears that the sports blackout rules are unnecessary because sports leagues can pursue local blackout protection through private contractual negotiations. Thus it appears that the sports rules have become obsolete ... we propose to repeal these rules," the agency said.
     Comments are due by Feb. 24.