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Five U.S. senators urge FCC to reform sports blackout rule

WASHINGTON -- Most people weighing in on a sports blackout rule are urging the Federal Communications Commission to scrap it.

Monday was the deadline for public comments on a petition by the Sports Fans Coalition to rescind the rule, which bars cable and satellite systems from carrying a sporting event that is blacked out on local broadcast television stations. The rule has effectively reinforced the NFL's own policy, which blocks game broadcasts in home markets that aren't sold out 72 hours ahead of time.

The agency has received about 140 comments, and an overwhelming majority favors the petition. That doesn't count nearly 3,500 comments the Sports Fans Coalition also sent in from people clicking an e-mail on the group's website urging that the rule be repealed. The FCC grouped all of those in one filing, under "individual comments from fans." Many of those urging the FCC to eliminate the rule argued that taxpayers have helped pay for the stadiums and should not have their home games blacked out.

Five Democratic senators filed comments with the FCC Monday urging it to reform the sports blackout rule.

"These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans," wrote Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.

They called the NFL's blackout policy "a relic of a different time" and said it was time for it to end.

The NFL said in its filing Monday night that the sports blackout rule "supports contractual provisions that are fundamental to broadcast television and thereby enable universal distribution of high quality content, including NFL football, to all Americans and to our fans -- all at no cost to those fans."

"Sports blackout policies, supported by the FCC's sports blackout rule, promote live attendance and thus improve the stadium experience," the league said.

Last week, The Associated Press reported that in 1972, the NFL turned down a deal from President Richard Nixon in which the league would allow playoff games to be televised in the hometown city, and the president would block any legislation requiring regular-season home games to be televised as well.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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