The FCC has proposed ending the sports blackout rule for television when a home game is not sold out. The NFL has long enforced a blackout rule, in various forms, under the rationale that to broadcast home market games without requiring a sellout would influence ticket sales. The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 (exempting sports leagues from anti-trust laws and allowing them to sell pooled television rights) and a 1973 amendment to the Communications Act were key pieces of legislation that has shaped the blackout.
From the FCC:
Changes in the sports industry in the last four decades have called into question whether the sports blackout rules remain necessary to ensure the overall availability of sports programming to the general public. In this proceeding, we will determine whether the sports blackout rules have become outdated due to marketplace changes since their adoption, and whether modification or elimination of those rules is appropriate.
We recognize that elimination of our sports blackout rules alone might not end sports blackouts, but it would leave sports carriage issues to private solutions negotiated by the interested parties in light of current market conditions and eliminate unnecessary regulation.
Things move quickly in government. Nearly two years ago, the FCC began looking into the issue and seeking public comment. The issue came into the political sphere in 2010, when several politicians in areas that were struggling economically questioned the blackout policy with so many teams relying on public money. The blackouts have virtually disappeared in the NFL-now three seasons removed from the lockout, the first one did not happen until December.
Still, with so much of the money now coming from television rights and fees, and many owners relying on taxpayer money to build palaces, it is long overdue.