According to published reports, this season the National Football League (NFL) will change existing rules that result in game day television broadcasts to be blacked out in the local market when games are not sold out. Owners recently passed a resolution allowing teams to decide to broadcast games locally when more than 85 percent of seats are filled, overturning the longtime requirement for full capacity seating.
Congressman Brian Higgins, and members of the Buffalo Fan Alliance and local fan movement the Bills Mafia, who have strongly urged the NFL to reconsider any blackout policies, hailed the progress as a victory for fans.
"This is a game-changer for football enthusiasts in Buffalo and across the nation," said Congressman Higgins. "Fans let their voices be heard and they certainly deserve this victory. "The momentum began when FCC Commissioners suggested the 36-year old rule deserved a "fresh look,' grabbing the attention of the NFL. But it was the loyal and enthusiastic football followers who really drove this down the field."
"When the FCC had its comment period, Buffalo was by far and away the largest market to write into the FCC to express their opinion that the blackout rule should be changed," said Matt Sabuda, President of the Buffalo Fan Alliance. "I give the NFL a ton of credit for doing it so quickly. They listened to fans, they recognized it, and to change in a period of less than a year is remarkable"
Bills Mafia founder Del Reid added, "Reducing the sales requirement to 85% is great news for football fans not only in Western New York, but in all NFL markets. Now, local fans who are unable to attend the game, but still support the team through other revenue streams such as merchandise sales, stand a much smaller chance of being penalized for something that is often beyond their control."
The NFL has a policy of blacking out games that are not sold out to the home market. A 1961 federal law requires broadcasters (networks) to abide by the League's blackout policy. On January 12th the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opened up a public comment period on a long-time FCC rule that requires cable or satellite providers to honor the blackout rule if it applies to the local affiliate it carries.
As one of the largest stadiums in the National Football League, Ralph Wilson Stadium in Western New York has seating for over 73,000. The league average for attendance last year was 67,000. This past season almost half of the Buffalo Bills' home games were blacked out.
Higgins added, "The blackout policy is unfair to local residents who invest their tax dollars into our stadiums only to be shut out of seeing their team play in the facilities they help build. Movement toward a more fan friendly experience is good for viewers inside the stadium and out, the league and the future of the game."