TV sports blackout rule is unfair in an era of taxpayer-supported teams - The Buffalo News

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TV sports blackout rule is unfair in an era of taxpayer-supported teams

The NFL says it will oppose any effort to drop the blackout rule that deprives sports fans of televised games, even as those fans – and non-fans – dig deep in their pockets to help teams build palaces meant to attract wealthy ticket buyers. It’s a losing argument, and the NFL needs to concede.

Momentum has been building on this issue since the Federal Communications Commission announced seven weeks ago that it was considering ending the blackout rule, in which broadcasts of local sporting events may be blocked in the home market. Indeed, the Bills’ final home game of the season, against Miami on Sunday, was officially declared blacked out on Thursday. It’s the only Bills blackout this season, and only the second of any team. So, what’s the need?

There is none, and on Wednesday, the end of the blackout was made even more likely when the FCC voted unanimously to discard it. That vote starts a months-long process that will include solicitation of public comments.

The NFL has already delivered its comment.

“We strongly oppose any change in the rule,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, insisting to the news site Politico that the ability to abuse local taxpayers “is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets …”

Really? The Buffalo Bills have fielded crummy teams for a decade and still sell out most games. What would happen if the organization ever committed to sending a squad of winners onto the turf? Quality is the issue, and even if it weren’t, taxpayers underwrite most of the nation’s football stadiums, including Buffalo’s. They have a legitimate claim to be able to watch games that are played there.

That, in the end, is the main reason to end the blackouts of sports events. It is unconscionable verging on criminal for wealthy team owners to blackmail communities for taxpayer funding and then black out broadcasts of those games to those same taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the end of the blackout rule might not mean the end of all blackouts. Even if the FCC pulls the trigger on ending the rule, sports leagues, broadcasters and cable and satellite providers would still be able to negotiate their own blackout rules when games don’t sell out.

That would be unfortunate and would signal the time for governments to intervene on behalf of the public. Indeed, we’d be happy to see that charge led by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who understands the issues well, and who praised the FCC’s action as “a victory for fans.”

Sports teams are very powerful, and they happily trade on the loyalty of their fans, so it is no surprise that the NFL is doing everything it can to continue mistreating the league’s taxpaying television audience. But whether the league knows it yet or not, it has been sacked. It should just take the safety and get on with the games.

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