The NFL broadcast regulations prevent TV from airing a football game in any market within 75 miles of a local stadium where that particular game has not sold out. FCC rules extend that regulation to cable and satellite - but several commissioners have talked more openly about lifting the federal requirement - giving viewers chances to see games that aren't on over-the-air broadcasts.
"I hope my comments today will kick-start a conversation about it, because I think especially with the NFL season looming, the last thing we want is for NFL fans to be kept in the dark hope during another exciting season," says Ajit Pai, one of five commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission.
At an appearance in Buffalo Tuesday Pai joined Congressman Brian Higgins and the Buffalo Fan Alliance to press for changes in the FCC rules.
If approved by a majority of the five FCC commissioners, the NFL would still be allowed to have contracts that require blacking out of games on basic over the air TV whenever that game is not sold out in a local market. However, pay TV wouldn't be under any federal regulation to comply
"But what we shouldn't do is essentially say whatever the NFL policy is, we are going to back it up and prevent cable and satellite from showing the games as well," he continued. "That's the kind of government intervention that doesn't do anyone any good at the end of the day."
Pai believes that if the FCC rules were repealed, fan pressure on the league would be enough to prevent it from blacking out games on their own, or moving games to a subscription service. "Free over-the-air broadcast is a good value proposition for the NFL," Pai said while at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo on Tuesday. "It exposes a much wider variety of Americans to the NFL product. Taking it off the air and putting it on a subscription service might serve the people who happen to subscribe, but if you're not able to afford that subscription, what does it gain you at the end of the day?"
Since most MLB, NBA, and NHL teams have moved their broadcasts to regional sports channels and away from over-the-air TV, the only league that would be realistically impacted by the elimination of these decades’ old rules is the NFL, which recently told the FCC that it will pick up its ball and go to pay-TV if it can’t be allowed to black out games anymore.