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"The (Other) NFL Blackout Rule"

Brendan I. Koerner pens a nice column in Slate explaining the genesis of the Sports Broadcasting Act. As discussed in the comments section of this post below, the Act enabled the NFL to escape antitrust scrutiny of its league-wide TV contracts. The price of this legislation, however, was a de facto ban on televising NFL games in competition with college games, which is why nobody got to see the Titans-Dolphins game last Saturday (rescheduled due to avoid hurricane Frances). Here's a snip:

This bit of athletic protectionism traces back to the days of the NFL's competition with the rival American Football League. Struggling to get the upper hand in the spring of 1961, the NFL took the then-unusual step of selling league-wide TV rights to CBS. But in July, a U.S. District Court ruled that the contract violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, since the deal prevented the individual teams from "determining the areas within which telecasts of games may be made."

NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, an astute lobbyist, quickly mobilized to push Congress for an antitrust exemption, arguing that small-market teams like the Green Bay Packers could survive only if the league "pooled" its TV rights. Congress was mostly happy to capitulate, save for a number of representatives who worried that the budding NFL would diminish interest in college and high-school football. Rozelle was keen to have the legislation pushed through in time for the fall season, and so his congressional allies made the compromise regarding the Friday night and Saturday broadcast bans. The act became law less than three months after the court decision voiding the CBS pact.

Koerner is the best thing going at Slate. Any student of the economics of sport should read this piece, and save a copy for future reference.