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FCC proposes end to US blackout rule

The US Federal Communications Commission, the country’s media regulator, has proposed the scrapping of the broadcast blackout rule, which blocks US sports events from being shown live on television in their local market if they fail to meet certain conditions, such as a specified level of ticket sales.

Acting FCC chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has said that the rules make it difficult for fans who cannot afford tickets to attend games to watch their favourite teams on television.

“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games,” she said.

The blackout rules have been in place in American football league the NFL since 1973. They previously stipulated that blackouts had to be implemented in home markets where games didn’t achieve a sell-out.

In July 2012, the NFL relaxed the regulation to state that only 85 per cent of non-premium seats need to be sold to avoid a blackout. There has not been a blackout in the NFL so far this season.

The National Association of Broadcasters has warned against changes to the blackout rules, arguing that it could encourage the movement of more popular sports events to pay-television.

NAB executive vice-president of communications Dennis Wharton said: “Sports blackouts are exceedingly rare, and NAB dislikes these disruptions as much as our viewers. However, we're concerned that (this) proposal may hasten the migration of sports to pay-TV platforms, and will disadvantage the growing number of people who rely on free, over-the-air television as their primary source for sports. Allowing importation of sports programming on pay-TV platforms while denying that same programming to broadcast-only homes would erode the economic underpinning that sustains local broadcasting and our service to community.”