John McCain Introduces Bill That Would Ban Sports TV Blackouts

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We can't speak to the chances of McCain's bill passing. We can only say that we very much want to live in a world where teams that play in publicly funded stadiums are no longer allowed to black out home games that don't sell out.

The Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, which John McCain introduced on the floor of the Senate today, is largely about "bundling," the practice of programmers requiring cable companies to buy entire blocks of channels, with the cost being passed on to consumers. It's not specifically about sports, but McCain uses the example of ESPN: if a consumer wants the Disney Channel, they have no choice but to receive the ESPN networks, at an additional cost of around $70 annually. McCain's bill would allow "a la carte" cable—paying for only the channels you want to watch. What a concept.


But there's another provision in the bill, one that would remove the threat of team owners' favorite blackmail since 1961:


The Commission shall amend subpart F of part 76 of subchapter C of chapter I of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations (47 C.F.R. 76.92 et seq.), to prohibit the application of sports blackout regulations to the broadcast of a sporting event taking place in a venue the construction of which was financed, in whole or in part, by the Federal Government or a State or local government.


The blackout rules affect mostly NFL games, though Blackhawk fans will remember it's not exclusive to football. This bill would restrict the rights of teams to keep games off television as long as tickets remain unsold, as long as those teams play in publicly financed stadiums. (These days, nearly all teams play in publicly financed stadiums, including those two constant blackout victims, San Diego and Jacksonville.)

Said McCain,

When the venues in which these sporting events take place has been the beneficiary of taxpayer funding, it is unconscionable to deny those taxpayers who paid for it the ability to watch the games on television when they would otherwise be available.

The blackout rules do seem draconian and arbitrary when you stop to think about them—which no one does, just assuming that's the way it's always been. But it hasn't always been that way. reminds us that blackouts are a result of The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, a bill pushed through Congress by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle to protect the league's TV contracts from antitrust rulings.

There have been efforts to challenge the NFL's blackout rules in the past, but none as straightforward as McCain's legislation. You can read the full bill below.