Will The NFL End 'Blackout' Rule For TV Broadcasts?

One upon a time, the National Football League had trouble packing its stadiums. To encourage fans to attend games instead of watching them at home, the games did not air on local TV. Today, filling stadium seats is not usually a problem, but the so-called blackout rules endure — at least for now. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins Audie Cornish to talk about that and check in on the NFL's season.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Once upon a time, the National Football League did not pack its stadiums and to encourage fans to attend games instead of watching them at home, the games did not air on local TV. Today, filling stadium seats is not usually a problem, but the so-called blackout rules endure, at least for now. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us to talk about that and other NFL news. Hey there, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS, BYLINE: Hey, Audie.

CORNISH: So the Federal Communications Commission this week proposed ending those blackout rules. Tell us why.

FATSIS: Well, this goes back to 1975. If a game was blacked out under the contract between a league and a TV network, it can't be shown locally by a cable or satellite provider that has access to the game. And this has mostly been a football issue. Basketball, baseball, hockey, most of those games are shown locally on pay TV. Deals are negotiated by the teams, not the leagues.

And so this made sense when 60 percent of NFL games didn't sell out, which was the case in 1974 and when teams derived most of their money from ticket sales.

CORNISH: Of course, that's not the case anymore.

FATSIS: No. The bulk of NFL revenue comes from TV deals, sponsorship, merchandise sales. There have only been two blackouts so far this season. But the NFL maintains that the blackout rules are still meaningful to sell tickets, but also because it says that games look better on TV if the stadium is full. So even if the FCC does lift its rules, leagues are still going to put blackouts in contracts with the television networks, but it might be harder to stop cable or satellite systems from showing the games, too.

CORNISH: Now, another big issue for the NFL obviously was the league's $765 million settlement of concussion lawsuits, those filed by more than 4500 former players. What's the status of that now?

FATSIS: Lawyers have been trying to figure out how much is going to be paid to each player. In the settlement, those with severe illnesses like Alzheimer's or ALS were designated to get up to $5 million. Now, the New York Times is reporting that lawyers have added a category for ex-players who are suffering from mild dementia, up to $1.5 million.

And they've created a sliding scale based on age and years in the league. Still, there's concern there's not going to be enough money and that players are going opt out of the deal. In fact, new lawsuits are being filed against the league and how that's going to effect the settlement isn't yet clear.

CORNISH: And then, looking forward to the Super Bowl. I understand it's going to be the first outdoor Super Bowl in a cold climate ever. And it sounds like there's going to be some concern about the weather, right? It's going to be played in Northern New Jersey, the home of the Jets and the Giants.

FATSIS: Right, and the Farmer's Almanac predicted major storm around the date of the game, February 2. The NFL, this week, invited reporters to the parking lot at MetLife Stadium to show off snow removal equipment and lay out contingency plans, which include moving the game to Saturday, Monday or Tuesday if there's a Snowmaggedon type situation.

The league also said that every fan in attendance is going to get a survival goody bag that includes ear muffs, hand warmers, lip balm and tissues.

CORNISH: Oh, well, I want to let you talk a little bit about some players that you like a lot, right, guys who had a very good couple of weeks.

FATSIS: Yeah, one of the most oddly enduring records in pro sports finally fell. Matt Prader of the Denver Broncos kicked a 64-yard field goal so goodbye 63, which was first set in 1970 and tied three times. And then Justin Tucker of Baltimore kicked a game-winning 61-yarder. It was his sixth field goal of the game. This guy likes to sing opera, too. Kickers are such Renaissance players, aren't they, Audie?

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much for talking with us.

FATSIS: Thanks, Audie.

CORNISH: Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays In The NFL." He joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

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