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Higgins Calls for End to NFL Blackout Policy

As the World Prepares to Watch This Weekend’s Big Game, Congressman Urges Expansion of Fans Viewing Rights for All Games

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) led a letter signed by several of his House of Representatives colleagues to National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting an end to its policy of game blackouts in home team media markets.

“Last year almost half of the Buffalo Bills’ home games were blacked out – this is unacceptable,” said Congressman Higgins. “When economic times are tough, working families may not have the resources to purchase tickets, but they should not be punished and denied the opportunity to turn on the television and see their hometown team, especially when its stadium has been supported through their tax dollars.  This is a matter of fan fairness.”

The NFL has a policy of blacking out games that have not sold out in the home market.  In 1975, the NFL changed its blackout rule from requiring a blackout in a home market even if the game was sold out, to the current 72-hour rule.  A 1961 federal law requires broadcasters/networks to abide by the Leagues’ blackout policy.  In the letter, Higgins and Representatives Kathy Hochul, also of New York, and Dennis Ross, Corrine Brown and Gus Bilirakis of Florida, argue that it is time for another update to take into account new factors, such as the varying sizes of stadia and media markets.

Higgins argues the blackout rule disproportionately hurts smaller communities like Buffalo. 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.

Earlier this year, Higgins also wrote a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asking that they consider eliminating their sports blackout rule. 

Congressman Higgins spoke about the issue on the House Floor.  Below are his remarks: 

Mr. Speaker, on Sunday, tens of millions of Americans will gather with family and friends to watch the Super Bowl. Many from my Western New York community will be among them.

Unfortunately, Western New York families do not always have the opportunity to watch our own hometown team, the Buffalo Bills.  The NFL’s blackout rule prohibits the broadcast of a game in a team’s home market if that game has not sold-out within 72 hours of kickoff.

Mr. Speaker, in Buffalo this meant that this past season almost half of the Buffalo Bills’ home games were blacked out. This is unacceptable. 

We have a strong, enthusiastic fan base, but with one of the largest football stadiums in the National Football League, Buffalo must sell 6,000 more tickets than the league’s average to avoid a blackout. 

I have sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Goodell, along with my colleagues Congresswoman Hochul, Congressman Ross, and Congresswoman Brown, asking for an end to this unfair policy. It is time for an update to this regulation, taking into account factors like stadium and media market size, and most importantly, the tough financial situation millions of families across our nation are in. 

These families have supported local stadiums for years with their tax dollars and they are entitled to some return on that public trust.  It is time to end this unfair policy.