The Federal Communications Commission announced today it was ending protection of the NFL’s blackout policy, which prohibits local broadcast stations from televising a game if a team does not sell a certain percentage of tickets at least 72 hours prior to kickoff.
In a Sept. 9 op-ed in USA Today, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that the blackout rules are a relic of when the NFL relied primarily on ticket sales for its revenue.
The sports blackout rules are a bad hangover from the days when barely 40 percent of games sold out and gate receipts were the league’s principal source of revenue. Last weekend, every single game was sold out. More significantly, pro football is now the most popular content on television. NFL games dominated last week’s ratings, as usual, and the Super Bowl has effectively become a national holiday. With the NFL’s incredible popularity, it’s not surprising that last year the League made $10 billion in revenue and only two games were blacked-out.
The NFL’s television ratings have never been better. Through the first three weeks of the season, Reuters reports, audiences watching primetime pro football games have risen and nearly all of the networks have seen an uptick in viewership. NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is averaging 21.8 million viewers, up 2 percent from last season.
The NFL’s current contracts with the broadcast networks extends through 2022.