Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ending home-game blackouts?

Introducing legislation is easy, enacting it is hard. So an all likelihood this is not going anywhere. John McCain today introduced the Television Consumer Freedom Act of 2013, which primarily would allow cable companies to offer channels a la carte, rather than exclusively in packages.

But buried in § 5 of the bill is a provision that would eliminate blackout regulations for games played in stadiums that were financed, in whole or in part, by federal, state, or local government. This would repeal a portion of the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961, passed at the urging of NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, which allows teams to blackout home games in local markets. McCain described the practice of preventing taxpayers from watching games played in arenas that their tax dollars had paid for as "unconscionable." Many of my ideas on fan speech depend on legal consequences and limitations attaching to public financing of sports venues, so I am glad to see the bill relying on the same idea.

Of course, most legislation is introduced for show and there is no apparent groundswell of public or legislative support for this, so I do not expect the bill to go anywhere. And it has more than a little whiff of McCain trying to play populist maverick against the broadcast/cable industries (recall that McCain criticized radio stations for the boycott of the Dixie Chicks in 2003). Still, it is an interesting proposal to watch.