The Sports Fans Coalition (SFC) has asked the FCC to investigate an allegation that the NFL pressured broadcasters to buy up regular season and playoff game tickets to avoid blackouts.
The SFC conceded there were no FCC rules involved in that allegation, or any FCC authority, but its point is that if there needed to be such pressure to avoid the blackout, there was something wrong with the underlying blackout policy.
The NFL has a policy of blacking out local broadcasts of games not sold out 72 hours in advance. The FCC's blackout rules prevent cable or satellite operators from using alternative means to deliver those games into the local market.
The FCC has already tentatively voted 5-0 to get rid of the rules, but has not made it official and put out that decision for comment. The Sports Fans Coalition, whose petition to lift the rules prompted the FCC vote, filed its comments Feb. 24 (the deadline), saying that the pressured ticket sales was a clear example of the blackout rules not being in the public interest.
On a conference call with reporters, coalition chairman David Goodfriend said that he had spoken with a high ranking sports executive—he would not say whether it was a broadcaster or a league official—who said the NFL had "communicated to the broadcast networks that it expected them to avoid any blackouts by having them [or their local affiliates] buy additional tickets" in the playoffs and regular season.
Goodfriend called it "coercion" but said he did not know what the consequence of not buying up those tickets would have been.
"The Commission should investigate immediately and thoroughly whether the NFL did, in fact, coerce broadcast networks and/or affiliates into purchasing unsold tickets to NFL regular and post-season games in order to avoid local blackouts," SFC said.
In addition to seeking the investigation, which Goodfriend said the FCC could refer to the Justice Department as well, SFC told the FCC that, contrary to league assertions, lifting the rules would not hasten the NFL's migration off broadcast TV or leave it "prone to unwanted distribution."
An NFL spokesman had no comment beyond saying it would be filing its comments later today, though that filing will not address the SFC comment or its allegation.
(Photographer Credit: Rob Carr/Getty Images)