FCC Commissioner Pai Supports Ending Sports Blackout Rule

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai discussed his support Tuesday morning for ending the sports blackout rule, which helped prevent many Bills games from being seen on local television over the years.

"It's disserving fans," Pai told 2 On Your Side in a one-on-one interview. He added, "There's no question in my mind that at this point that the public interest lies on the side of fans in Buffalo and all of these other great NFL cities who are just dying to watch the team but can't do it in person."

Pai and his fellow commissioners at the FCC voted unanimously in December 2013 for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to eliminate the blackout.

He wants the chairman of the FCC to call a vote to remove the blackout rule.

The FCC rule applies only to cable and satellite providers and prevents them from showing games when they are blacked out on the broadcast networks.

Pai acknowledged blackouts could continue even with the FCC change -- because the NFL could make agreements with all its television partners -- but he said it would send a strong message to the league.

"If we got rid of the rule, I think that would build a lot of pressure on the NFL to revisit its own policy," Pai said.

Last year, only one Buffalo Bills game was blacked out; however, two others were at risk until then-owner Ralph Wilson bought up the remaining tickets.

There have been 9 Bills games blacked out over the past 4 years.

Pai was joined by Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo), Brad Blakeman with the national group "Sports Fans Coalition" and Del Reid, co-founder of #BillsMafia at an announcement at Anchor Bar Tuesday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the Bills declined to comment, referring 2 On Your Side to the league office.

In the past, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the blackout rule is needed to ensure fans attend the games in high numbers.

"We are 99 percent sold out, so it has very little impact on our business," Commissioner Goodell said. "But it could have an impact on the overall business model for free television. We think that's devastating to our consumers and consumers in general."

Pai strongly disagreed.

"I respect that, but on the other hand, if you look at where the revenues are coming now for the average NFL team -- back in the 70s when we adopted this FCC rule, up to 60 percent of the revenue came from gate receipts," Pai said. "Now that's down to 20 percent. The bulk of it is coming from television."


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