You may not know it, but the NFL is allowed to black out fans because of government subsidies it lobbied for 50 years ago. The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 — which was pushed through Congress by then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle — allows teams to collectively negotiate broadcast contracts and allows teams to black out home games on broadcast television in the local markets. The SBA thus codified the anti-fan practice of blacking out fans from seeing their favorite teams play home games.
Here’s the provision of the Sports Broadcasting Act that relates to blackouts:
[The Sports Broadcasting Act] shall not apply to any joint agreement… which prohibits any person to whom rights are sold or transferred from televising any games within any area, except within the home territory of a member club of the league on a day when such club is playing a game at home.
Because the SBA only refers to broadcasting of games, the FCC later adopted its sports blackout rule, which states that if a local broadcaster can’t air a home game, then cable and satellite providers cannot either. As you may know, Sports Fans Coalition has asked the FCC to eliminate its rule. (We eventually plan to target the SBA’s language on blackouts.)
So the NFL has lobbied for — and received — multiple subsidies from the federal government, including:
1) the right to collectively negotiate television broadcast contracts
2) an antitrust exemption for its merger with the American Football League
3) nonprofit status so it doesn’t have to pay taxes
4) the right to black out fans from games on broadcast television
5) the right to black out fans from games on cable and satellite television
And then there are numerous subsidies granted by state and local governments and the over $7 billion in stadium subsidies…
Given the massive resources we’ve devoted towards the National Football League, it’s completely unethical that they repay fans by blacking them out. But it’s totally unacceptable that the government is in the business of propping up those blackouts.