FCC votes unanimously to repeal sports TV blackout rule

Football on TV
Kizilkayaphotos | Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday voted unanimously to eliminate a 1975 rule that has prohibited pay-TV providers from airing NFL games and some other sports events if the tickets did not sell out at least 72 hours before the contest.

In the '70s, only 40 to 50 percent of NFL games were televised. The rest were blacked out. But in a bipartisan ruling, the FCC said Tuesday that blackout rules are not "justified in light of the significant changes in the sports industry.'

"For 40 years, these teams have hidden behind a rule of the FCC. No more,'' FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. "It's a simple fact, the federal government should not be party to sports teams keeping their fans from viewing the games, period.''


Although the league will no longer be protected by the FCC's blackout rule, it may decide to preserve its private blackout policy.

After the ruling, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league did not plan to stop free broadcasts of its games in the foreseeable future.

The NFL's main source of revenue is no longer ticket sales but television revenues, making blackouts less necessary. Last season, the NFL blacked out only two out of 256 games while making $6 billion in television revenue a year.

Read MoreTax-exempt? The NFL's nonprofit status by the numbers

CNBC.com contributed to this story.