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NAB: Lifting FCC Sports Blackout Rule Is a Bad Call

Would harm localism and hasten the migration of sports programming from broadcast to cable 2/13/2012 05:49:56 PM Eastern

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The National Association of Broadcasters says that lifting the FCC's sports blackout rule would harm localism and hasten the migration of sports programming from broadcast to cable.

That came in a filing at the FCC in opposition to the petition by the Sports Fans Coalition asking the FCC to drop the rule, which prevents cable and satellite companies from carrying a sporting event if it is blacked out on broadcast TV -- in the case of the NFL, broadcasters can't air a game in their local market if it is not sold out at least 72 hours before kickoff. That has happened increasingly in recent years with the down economy, including three games of the Buffalo Bills, which have a large stadium in a small market.

NAB says that the reason it is opposing lifting the ban is because it prevents pay-TV operators from circumventing exclusivity agreements -- it would allow cable ops to import a distant signal version of the game into markets where the home game was blacked out due to standing NFL contracts, which would continue to be in force, preventing broadcasters from showing the games to their over-the-air subscribers.

"If the Commission were to curtail broadcasters' ability to enforce that exclusivity, it would weaken broadcasters' capacity to attract advertising, thereby reducing their ability to pay for popular programming generally and to invest in local programming specifically," said NAB.

"Broadcasters understand and sympathize with fan frustration over sports blackouts," it said in its comments. "Ideally, no blackouts would ever occur. But elimination of the FCC's rules would not solve the problem, as Congress has codified sports leagues' rights to black out home games."

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