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FCC unanimously votes down NFL blackout rule

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The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday afternoon to end the NFL's long-standing blackout rule.

Rob Foldy

The Jacksonville Jaguars haven't had a game blacked out since 2009, but it's good to see these jokes are one step closer towards fading into antiquity.

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously 5-0 to strike down the NFL's blackout rule which states that a certain number of tickets must be sold or else TV coverage is "blacked out" in the local market.

The NFL's blackout rule ensures that if a stadium fails to sell out for a given game, then the game can't be shown on television in the same area who carry that broadcast content. For decades, the idea was to encourage people to go to games to help support individual franchises locally, and by extension the NFL nationally.

But revenue streams aren't the same today as they were in 1975 when the blackout rule was instituted. Ticket sales were a much bigger piece of the pie back then. Now? It's certainly part of the equation, but with the advent of new television rights and merchandising, the blackout rule is looked at by many as outdated.

Serious consideration for whether the blackout rule would survive started last year when U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and U.S. Representative Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.) introduced legislation that would take away the NFL's broadcasting antitrust exemption unless the blackout rule was lifted.

According to Edward Wyatt of the New York Times, although the FCC has abolished the blackout rule, the NFL still has it on its books and can choose to employ it. Whether the NFL has the power to overrule the FCC remains to be seen. With the league suffering an embarrassing litany of public relations blunders, ranging from serious domestic abuse charges to inflated suspensions over drug use that is legal in certain states, it will be interesting to see how far the NFL takes this.