Hate the NFL's blackout rule? So does John McCain

The senator is pushing federal legislation that would ban the policy, which requires teams to sell out a game to broadcast it locally.

By Jonathan Berr Jul 8, 2013 3:28PM
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the AFC divisional playoff in Foxborough, Mass. on Jan. 13, 2013 (© Elise Amendola/AP Photo)Football fans who are mad as hell about the National Football League's TV blackout policy have an ally in Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Earlier this year, the 2008 GOP presidential candidate introduced a bill that would require the NFL to broadcast all home games locally in markets where teams have used public financing to build stadiums, which is almost everywhere.
"Now, if that stadium is not taxpayer-financed, then that owner can do anything they want to," Digital First Media quoted McCain as saying. "But if the taxpayers paid for them, then, by God, I think the taxpayers ought to be able to see the game whether they sell out the stadium or not."

McCain has a point. The NFL's blackout rule is antiquated, dating to the 1970s -- which in the world of media might as well be the Dark Ages. The rule penalizes millions of fans who are either unable or unwilling to pay the exorbitant prices teams charge to watch games live. The insistence that a team sell out 72 hours before kickoff or lose the ability to broadcast the game locally seems arbitrary and pointless.

The NFL argues the number of blacked-out games has declined in recent years. During 2012, all but 15 games were televised in their local markets. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the league with six blocked names, followed by the San Diego Chargers (four), Cincinnati Bengals (two), Buffalo Bills (two) and Oakland Raiders (one).

The stakes are certainly high. NFL games accounted for 31 out 32 of the most-watched TV broadcasts last fall, "more than double the amount of viewers for other prime-time programming on Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC," Digital First Media said. Fox parent 21st Century Fox (FOXA) (formerly News Corp.), CBS (CBS) and Comcast's (CMCSA) NBC agreed to pay the NFL $28 billion for broadcast rights through 2022. Walt Disney's (DIS) ESPN has a separate $1.9 billion annual deal, and DirecTV (DTV) has a $1 billion agreement.

The blackout rule has led some teams to come up with creative ways of bypassing it. 

Some, such as the Oakland Raiders, are reducing their stadium's seating capacity to make it easier to sell out. The Jacksonville Jaguars are trying the fan-friendly approach to boosting attendance by allowing fans to bypass high concession prices and to bring in food from home.

The NFL probably isn't all that worried about McCain's bill, because it's part of the Television Consumer Freedom Act, which would forbid cable companies from bundling less popular channels with popular ones. Broadcasters fiercely oppose what some call a-la-carte pricing, and cable companies have claimed it would make their costs skyrocket.

Chances are the status quo isn't about to change anytime soon. As Digital First Media pointed out, McCain's bill hasn't attracted any co-sponsors, and no hearings have been scheduled.

Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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Jul 8, 2013 5:18PM
Good idea . If my tax money goes into it , there should be no blackouts ever . It should have been this way from the start. Owners have billions , players have millions and the tax payer gets the shaft again . If owners want to blackout their teams ? Then build your own stadiums and no tax money at all ! I'm sick of billionaires getting a free welfare ride off the US governments or States .. It time to put an end to this garbage.. Corporate welfare .
Jul 8, 2013 5:10PM

I guess the fact that this is set up to allow people to watch competitive teams play isn't the way things should be even when revenue sharing exists and the league signs the media deals not the teams so no team is hurt by a black out.  There is no problem here.  Go work on legislation that has a purpose not some BS that doesn't matter.

Jul 9, 2013 11:32AM

Let me guess.  He blames Obama for it, and thinks we ought to send military support to the rebels, right?


And he's going to sneak into a game in disguise to see what's going on?


That about cover it?

Jul 9, 2013 2:18PM
How about a bill requiring them to black out just the 4th quarter of all my Chargers games?
Jul 9, 2013 12:25PM
McCain thinks it's bad now? There was a time when all NFL games were blacked out in the home city. In fact one of my earliest sports memories as a kid was listening to the '62 NFL Championship game on the radio because it was not broadcast in the NYC metro area because the Giants were the home team.
Jul 8, 2013 8:36PM

I can't watch any Seahawks or Mariners games on the ESPN app on my Xbox either, even the away games. They black out all local games in both markets in order to force people to subscribe to cable. Thank goodness they aren't blocking the radio broadcasts...yet.

Jul 8, 2013 4:33PM
Sorry the Cardinals suck Mccain.  Let enterprise run itself dude, isn't that what your party prefers or does that only matter when you feel like it does?
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