Buffalo Bills fans now have an easy way to tell federal officials that they're fed up with television blackout rules that kept the team's last three home games of 2011 off the air.
Sports Fans Coalition, a national group that has been fighting the Federal Communications Commission's blackout rules, announced Tuesday that it has formed a Buffalo chapter to press the FCC on the issue -- and to explore ways to ensure that the Bills remain in Buffalo.
The group has set up a website, www.endblackouts.com, where fans can write their comments to the FCC regarding the blackout rules. The FCC is accepting comments on the matter through Feb. 13.
"Fans in Buffalo know all too well how anti-fan blackouts can be," said Matt Sabuda, a former member of the Bills' public relations department who is chairman of the Sports Fans Coalition's Buffalo chapter. "Now it's up to us to take advantage of this unique opportunity to be heard by the federal government. Sports Fans Coalition is actually helping give fans a seat at the table."
Sabuda said the endblackouts.com website would give fans a much easier way to send their comments to the FCC than the comparatively awkward agency website.
The FCC announced recently that it is considering revising blackout rules that date from the mid-1970s.
While the National Football League's television deals with the networks call for local stations to black out games that are not sold out 72 hours in advance, the current FCC rules prevent cable and satellite TV outlets from broadcasting those games, too.
"Buffalo fans now have the opportunity to be heard on blackouts and they have a great leader in Matt Sabuda," said Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fans Coalition. "Matt understands the issues facing Bills and Sabres fans and is well-suited to tackle them. Our first call to Buffalo fans is to speak up to end counterproductive blackouts."
The group is exploring the possibility of buying cable TV ads to help promote endblackouts.com, Sabuda said.
Sabuda, now a Buffalo-based real estate investor, said that in addition to working on the blackout issue, he has been meeting with local lawyers to explore ownership possibilities for the Bills in future years.
The NFL has a set of ownership policies in place that, in effect, prohibit community ownership for teams other than the Green Bay Packers, a franchise that has long been community-owned.
But Sabuda said his group is exploring whether there might be creative ways to involve the community in the Bills' ownership and still comply with the league rules.
"In addition to fighting blackouts, the Buffalo chapter's top priority is to ensure that Buffalo is the permanent home of the Bills," Sabuda said. "We are working on several initiatives that could allow Bills fans to have a tangible stake in the team's future."
Sabuda has been speaking with local politicians such as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a staunch opponent of the current blackout policy.
And Sabuda has set up a Twitter feed, @sfcMatt, that will allow fans to contact him about what the group should be doing.
"I'll be available for fan input and feedback seven days a week," he said. "I also plan to let fans know exactly where our politicians stand on issues important to Buffalo fans."