With NFL Playoffs in full swing, it couldn't be a better time to update you on some of the latest developments around the league.
We start with good news for both the league and broadcasters: Every network that airs NFL contests is reporting increases in ratings and viewership. Some have set new records.
Both Fox and the NFL Network had record-setting seasons, and CBS, NBC, and ESPN had increases over last season. And it carried over into the playoffs. Despite struggling ticket sales in three of the four cities hosting playoff contests, the TV numbers were up compared to last year. NBC’s doubleheader was up 14% over the same weekend in 2013, CBS’ telecast increased by 4% over last season, and the Fox telecast, which saw the 49ers beat the Packers with a game-winning field goal as time expired, was a whopping 24% over last year’s contest.
Moving on to some not-so-good news: The NFL made it clear that, with regard to the recent political movement to prevent sports blackouts, it will fight any attempt to restrict it from changing current blackout rules. As reported here last year, both the FCC and two senators are proposing legislation preventing sports leagues from blacking out games at the expense of fans. In the legislation offered by the senators, continuing to do so would eliminate their antitrust exemptions. The NFL has indicated it's willing to take that consequence over changing its long-time, and many would say antiquated, blackout rules.
With that news, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), one of the authors of the senate bill known as the FANS (Furthering Access and Networks for Sports) Act, used Wild Card Weekend as an opportunity to push for support for this bill. As noted above, three of the four contests last weekend had struggling ticket sales and would've been blacked out locally had companies like Kroger and Proctor and Gamble not stepped up and bought the remaining tickets.
“The potential local television blackout of NFL playoff games this weekend in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Green Bay, only narrowly averted...should serve as an example to all sports fans of how poorly many rules and regulations are serving consumers and taxpayers today," McCain said. "The fact is that the NFL in particular enjoys numerous benefits paid for by tax-paying consumers, through antitrust exemptions, tax exemptions and publicly-financed stadium construction. Consumers should be the beneficiaries of these arrangements, yet this episode shows that is not the case. The original aim of the league’s blackout policy is no longer logical in today's marketplace.”
The NFL did not waver in its response, confirming that if those contests had not sold out, they would not have been on TV in those three cities. We'll see if this development causes the FANS Act to pass in the Senate.
Stay tuned to this column for more NFL TV News and Notes.