Have you seen the NFL’s new web site protectfootballonfreetv.com? It’s the latest salvo by the league to fight the FCC's proposal to drop its sports blackout rule. It just launched the site with the backing of CBS, Fox, and the National Association of Broadcasters, a lobbyist group for TV station owners.
Current FCC rules prevent cable and satellite operators from airing TV station signals from another city carrying an NFL game that has been blacked out on broadcast TV in a local market due to insufficient ticket sales. In other words, if the Raiders don’t sell enough tickets to a particular home game, and this game is blacked out on KPIX, Comcast is not allowed to locate the contest on another station and air it here.
The NFL still has this blackout rule written into its media rights contracts with all NFL broadcasters, but the FCC stipulation provides legal backing.
According to the site, "While every other professional sports service has moved to pay services like cable or satellite, the NFL makes every regular-season and playoff game available to you for free." This claim is only true for Monday Night and, from Week 8 on, Thursday Night Football matchups if you’re in one of the TV markets where the participating teams play. For most viewers, MNF and TNF contests are on pay TV.
As for playoffs, it was true up to now, but is no longer valid since, as was reported here, one playoff game is about to move to ESPN.
The site also claims that eliminating the rule would jeopardize NFL coverage on free over-the-air TV, which is also not true. The league currently has deals with CBS, Fox, and NBC through 2022, and nothing can reverse that. What happens after 2022 is open for debate, but the league is likely to continue to go where the money is, and if that continues to be free TV, then a rule change is unlikely to affect it.
The site makes additional unproven claims like scrapping the blackout rule will threaten free TV and weaken local economies. How? It doesn’t say. And it list proponents of scrapping the rule as “pay-TV lobbyists” while ignoring the fact that one it the site’s supporters, the NAB, is lobbyist group for broadcasters. It goes on to say these pay TV lobbyists “have manufactured a controversy in an effort to change the current rule and charge fans for games that they currently watch for free.” Every Raiders fan knows that TV blackouts are not a manufactured controversy.
Check out the site for yourself, but have your challenge flag ready.