TV Blackout Rule – The NFL Gets the Senate Interference They Ask For

TV Blackout Rule – The NFL Gets the Senate Interference They Ask For

Boy, that was close.

Local football fans in Indianapolis, Green Bay and Cincinnati almost had their wild card games blacked out by the NFL last weekend, since tickets were not selling out by the 72-hour deadline imposed by the NFL under the TV blackout rule that has been in effect since the 1970’s.

Fortunately, local businesses stepped in to buy up any remaining tickets, and the day was saved for the sports fans in all three of these cities.

But of course, this is an issue that demands immediate government attention. As Politico reports, bipartisan efforts – rarely seen in the Senate these days – are in full swing to address this terrible blackout threat, so it doesn’t happen again. Democrat Richard Blumenthal and Republican John McCain are leading the inquiry into the NFL blackout rule, defending the rights of the impoverished sports fans who can no longer pay to see their teams in person, and who therefor must be allowed to see them on television.

There is nothing new under the sun, though, so a little historical perspective might be in order. The NFL always blacked out ALL team home games on EVERY Sunday, regardless of whether the games sold out their tickets. This was just the way it was, and I remember fellow Philadelphia Eagles fans driving to Baltimore and watching the Eagles home games on television down there, just outside the blackout zone. It was the NFL’s way of ensuring maximum ticket sales, which at the time were the most important source of revenue.

But then, in the early 1970’s, George Allen showed up to coach the Washington Redskins, who made a strong run at the playoffs and Super Bowl, and the Senators and Congressmen were furious that they could not watch the local Redskin games on TV. Thus came about the Congressional push that resulted in the 72-hour blackout rule, which in fact has always seemed sensible to me. Now the Senate is at it again, and the NFL must put up with more Congressional interference.

Now, I am a committed free market person, and ordinarily I would say that the NFL is a private enterprise and should be able to set their own rules, free from government pressure. The problem, though, is that the NFL has accepted local and state funds to help construct their pleasure palaces, an antitrust exemption, and tax-exempt status as a nonprofit – at least at the League level if not the individual club level. It’s hard to fend off the government when you are already in bed with them, so the NFL is getting more of what they really deserve.

I guess the NFL can always return government-supplied stadium construction funds, decline the antitrust exemption and pay taxes like every other private enterprise — and then have every right to tell McCain and Blumenthal to buzz off. But the chances of that happening are about as great as eliminating beer sales in the stadiums (although everybody knows that would be the most effective way to solve fan behavior problems — which, ironically, may be part of the reason for those lagging ticket sales).