February 24, 2014

Throw the Flag on Sports Blackout Rules

Brent Skorup

Senior Research Fellow
Summary

In the early decades of the NFL and other major sports leagues, believe it or not, many teams were losing money and the leagues needed to improve ticket sales. An infamous 1952 game between the Chicago Bears and now-defunct Dallas Texans drew only 3,000 fans on Thanksgiving Day. By blacking out game broadcasts in home cities, the NFL and other major sports leagues believed, reasonably, they could improve stadium attendance.

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Former television executive Preston Padden once remarked that media companies are subject to “a Rube Goldberg regulatory structure,” a complex system that performs simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways. Sports fans are acutely aware of one small piece of that inefficient machine -- sports blackout rules.

The sports blackout rules were originally devised by the Federal Communications Commission in 1975. Fortunately, the FCC is considering repealing sports blackout rules as no longer in the public interest, but the ordeal reveals how difficult it is to remove regulations long after their (dubious) usefulness.

In the early decades of the NFL and other major sports leagues, believe it or not, many teams were losing money and the leagues needed to improve ticket sales. An infamous 1952 game between the Chicago Bears and now-defunct Dallas Texans drew only 3,000 fans on Thanksgiving Day. By blacking out game broadcasts in home cities, the NFL and other major sports leagues believed, reasonably, they could improve stadium attendance.

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