Sen. John McCain threatened to take away the NFL’s antitrust exemption if it doesn’t stop blacking out TV broadcasts.

Jim Greenhill

The National Football League must “end blackouts once and for all [or] Congress will be forced to act,” two senators told the league yesterday.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after the Federal Communications Commission eliminated rules that helped support the NFL’s blackout policies. Commission members urged the NFL to stop blacking out games but acknowledged that the league still has the power to enforce blackouts through private contracts.”[W]e write to urge the NFL to view this as an opportunity to recognize that unpopular blackouts are no longer justified in today’s environment,” McCain and Blumenthal wrote to Goodell. “We ask that you capitalize on the FCC’s vote this week and voluntarily rescind your requirement that local television stations black out games that fail to sell out. The NFL has received substantial benefits from the public in the form of antitrust exemptions, a specialized tax status, and direct taxpayer dollars that subsidize football arenas and stadiums. These generous benefits were extended to leagues like the NFL in part based on recognition that sports leagues play a central role in our national culture, promote teamwork, and generate jobs and economic activity across the country. But, the provision of these substantial public benefits requires that the NFL meet basic obligations to the American public and loyal fans, and this includes abandoning rules that punish those same fans.”
The NFL issued a statement after the FCC’s vote on Tuesday, saying it would make no change to its policies. The NFL praised itself for being “the only sports league that televises every one of its games on free, over-the-air television.” However, the NFL prevents games from being shown on local TV when tickets don’t sell out. Teams are allowed to reduce the likelihood of a blackout by only requiring that 85 percent of tickets be sold, but the NFL has refused to end the blackouts entirely.
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