FCC may end blackout rules, but games may still be blacked out online

The Federal Communications Commission could do away with its decades-old blackout rules for sports events, if Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn has her way. Clyburn said Friday that she circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to end the FCC involvement in this space. In a statement sent to press, Clyburn said:

“Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games.”

Blackout rules were originally enacted to protect both stadium ticket sales and local broadcasters by reining in what networks could show to their audiences.

However, as TV is going online, blackout rules also have taken a toll on otherwise compelling streaming offerings. For example, the MLB’s At Bat app offers paying subscribers access to live baseball streams – with the exception of games from a subscriber’s home team, which is obviously what many sports fans are interested in most.

Unfortunately, even an FCC decision to get out of the business of regulating sports blackouts on TV would not automatically mean that all blackouts will magically disappear, as Clyburn also noted:

“Elimination of our sports blackout rules will not prevent the sports leagues, broadcasters, and cable and satellite providers from privately negotiating agreements to black out certain sports events.”

The FCC didn’t have any further comment on the matter Friday.