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Higgins Asks FCC to Change the Rules on NFL Blackouts

Congressman Encourages WNY to Speak Up During Public Comment Period

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) wants to prevent Buffalo Bills blackouts and he’s writing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ask them to change the rules to make that happen.  A group has filed a Petition asking the FCC to eliminate the Commission’s sports blackout rules.  In response, the FCC is currently seeking comments on the existing blackout provision.  

“The blackout rule denies fans who have invested their time, consumer spending and local tax dollars in the Bills from being able to watch their team play,” said Congressman Higgins. 

In Higgins’ letter he argues that the blackout rule disproportionately hurts communities like Buffalo, “As one of the largest stadiums in the National Football League, Ralph Wilson Stadium has seating for over 73,000. The blackout rules require that the stadium be sold out in order to broadcast the game locally. The league average for attendance last year was 67,000. This requires the Bills to sell 6,000 more tickets than the average team in one of the League's smaller communities just to be shown on local television, and do so 72 hours before the game. I do not believe this is fair to the people of my community.” 

Below are remarks made by Congressman Higgins on the House Floor: 
“Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss an issue of great importance to Western New York– the Buffalo Bills.
“The Bills have the most dedicated fan base of any football franchise in the country. Since 1960, Bills fans have embraced and supported the team, both emotionally and financially. Today, the Buffalo Bills franchise is an integral piece of the New York State economy. 
“But harsh blackout provisions threaten New Yorkers’ ability to watch their team on television. The blackout rule requires that a stadium be sold out 72 hours in advance in order to broadcast a football game locally. In Buffalo this means that in order to avoid a blackout the Bills must sell more tickets than the League average in one of the League’s smallest markets.  
“Last year almost half of Bills’ home games were blacked out. This is unacceptable.
“This morning I sent a letter to the FCC Chairman asking that he eliminate this unfair rule, which does not provide for individual solutions to different local markets. The FCC has opened a public comment period on this matter and I urge fans who feel similarly to do the same.  In the meantime I will continue this fight.”  
Last week FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell released the following statement regarding the request for comments, “I am delighted that the Media Bureau is requesting comment on a petition seeking elimination of the Commission’s rules that prohibit multichannel video programming distributors from carrying a sporting event in a community if it is blacked out by the local broadcast station.  Taking a fresh look at this 36-year-old rule could be constructive as we look for rules to streamline and modernize.  Over almost four decades, the economics and structure of both the sports and communications industries have experienced dramatic evolutions.  We now live in a world with not only local broadcast stations, but also cable, satellite, the Internet and wireless, and where television and merchandizing revenues exceed ticket sales.  It is appropriate for us to re-examine the rule in light of marketplace changes.” 

Congressman Higgins is encouraging Western New York businesses and residents to join him in sharing their thoughts about the current black out rules with the FCC.  Comments may be filed electronically at: or sent via mail to:
Marlene H. Dortch, Secretary
Federal Communications Commission
Office of the Secretary
445 12th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20554
Responses are due by February 13, 2012.