(Bloomberg) — The National Football League suspended its blackout rule for the 2015 season, meaning all games will be televised in their local markets even if they don’t sell out, and for the first time will broadcast a game on the Internet.
The decisions were made Monday at the NFL’s annual meeting in Phoenix, where the league’s competition committee said it opposes an expanded instant replay system to help officiating.
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission six months ago eliminated a 40-year-old rule enforcing blackouts. The NFL, however, still had the option of enforcing blackouts through its contracts with over-the-air broadcasters.
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The NFL, which has about $10 billion in annual revenue and the most popular and valuable programming on broadcast and cable TV, said there were no blackouts of regular-season games in 2014. There were two in 256 regular-season games in 2013.
“This is a big win for sports fans across the country, from Buffalo to San Diego,” FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said in a statement. “When the FCC voted to eliminate our sports blackout rule last September, I called on the NFL to revisit its blackout policy and adopt a more fan-friendly approach.”
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The NFL’s decision is a “big step in the right direction,” Pai said. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league will evaluate the impact of the suspension, which applies to the preseason and regular season, in 2016.
The NFL is the only professional sports league to televise all its games in local markets for free.
Blackouts have drawn ire from fans and lawmakers, who have pointed out that games not being televised are played in stadiums partly financed by taxpayers. The NFL previously said the rule is needed to encourage stadium ticket sales.
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Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said the decision is a victory for sports fans and consumers.
“This antiquated, anti-consumer rule has for too long served only to protect the NFL’s bottom line at the expense of sports fans,” said Blumenthal, a Democrat who partnered with Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona in 2013 to introduce legislation to permanently eliminate the blackout rule.
The NFL also said that its Oct. 25 game in London between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills will be available on a digital platform to be determined.
Fans in Jacksonville and Buffalo can still watch the game, which kicks off at 9:30 a.m. New York time, on local television.
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