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Sen. John McCain introduces bill to end NFL TV blackouts

7/5/2013 5:08:43 PM
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Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., claims the NFL's blackout rule, instituted in 1973 and regulated by the FCC, is extreme, archaic and poor public policy. In May, the 2008 presidential nominee introduced a bill that would prohibit the league from blacking out games in markets in which teams have used public financing for stadium construction, Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

"I think that's outrageous," McCain testified May 14 during a Senate subcommittee hearing. "Now, if that stadium is not taxpayer-financed, then that owner can do anything they want to. But if the taxpayers paid for them then, by God, I think the taxpayers ought to be able to see the game whether they sell out the stadium or not."

McCain's eight-page Television Consumer Freedom Act, proposed legislation that would curb cable operators' ability to bundle channels and allow viewers to purchase them from an "a la carte" menu.

The blackout ban is the final sentence of the bill. Its language does not define public stadium financing or even mention the 1961 antitrust law that has allowed the NFL to exclusively negotiate, on behalf of its teams, billions of dollars worth of television contracts.

McCain's proposed law has not attracted any co-sponsors, nor have any hearings been scheduled on Capitol Hill. What is more, the bill faces fierce opposition from the NFL and TV executives.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents local stations, grudgingly accepts the blackout rule as leverage for keeping games on free television. Without it, the NAB argues, telecommunications giants like DirecTV, Time Warner Cable and Dish Network could circumvent contracts between the NFL and its broadcast partners by showing supposedly blacked-out games to their customers.

Still, McCain already is farther downfield than previous blackout challengers. He is leading a chorus calling for the end of a practice that has angered NFL fans for more than 60 years.

"In three or four years, there will not be blackouts in the NFL," predicted U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, a lifelong Bills fan who represents Buffalo and western New York.

"I think the league will come around to recognizing that the blackout rule is obsolete when you consider the economic realities of today. What the league fears is the unknown. They're playing defense as opposed to offense. They don't want Congress telling them what to do, but the owners and the commissioner will figure it out."

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