January 19, 2012   |No Comments Blackouts, Blog, Issues, Uncategorized

Rep. Higgins (D-NY) Speaks Up for Buffalo Fans, Calls for FCC to Eliminate Blackout Rule

Sports fans have another ally in Rep. Brian Higgins, who represents Buffalo. Yesterday, Higgins wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski asking for the agency to eliminate its blackout rule. Higgins also took to the floor of the House yesterday to raise objections to the blackout rules that prevented Buffalo fans from seeing three games this season. Higgins joins Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in expressing concern about the blackout rules.

We’ve previously told you how unfair the NFL’s blackout rules are, but especially in the case of Buffalo. The capacity is 73,079 at Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is much higher than at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which has a capacity of 61,500, yet the population of Buffalo is 292,648, while the population of Chicago is 2,896,016. That means that Bills ownership expects a quarter of Buffalo’s population to pay to attend every other Sunday. The NFL even blacked out Bills fans on Christmas Eve. And keep in mind the Bills ownership expects the Buffalo community to kick in $100 million for stadium improvements.

In his letter to the FCC, Higgins points out the absurdity in requiring Buffalo to sellout given the size of Ralph Wilson Stadium compared to other stadiums around the country.

“The league average for attendance last year was 67,000. This requires the Bills to sell 6,000 more tickets than the average team in one of the league’s smaller communities, just to be shown on television, and to do so 72 hours before the game. I do not believe this is fair to the people of my community and these rules have set a national mandate rather than an individualized solution to local markets. The NFL should not punish my community of Western New York merely because of the size of the stadium.”

You can read Higgins’ letter to the FCC here.

Kudos to Rep. Higgins for fighting for fans on this important issue. Buffalo fans — and fans around the country — need to join him by letting the FCC know how unethical and counterproductive blackouts are. (Click the link below.)

TELL THE FCC TO END ITS SPORTS BLACKOUT RULE!

January 19, 2012   |No Comments Blog, Issues, Stadiums

Santa Clara Residents Successfully Force Referendum on 49ers Stadium Loan!

Congratulations to Santa Clara Plays Fair, a group of Santa Clara residents who gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on the Santa Clara City Council’s decision to take out a $850 million loan for a new stadium for the San Francisco 49ers. The loan will suppsedly be paid back by the team, but anybody who’s been watching professional sports knows that’s far from a certainty. The SCPF group launched the signature drive after it became clear that the plan the city council voted on wasn’t the same that voters approved in 2010. Field of Schemes author Neil deMause has written that the $850 million loan agreement “piles risk on top of risk” and points out that when stadium authorities fail, it’s up to the host cities to bail them out (not the teams playing in those stadiums).

What happens now remains unclear. The city will likely go to court to challenge the legality of the referendum drive. But given the enormous cost to the small city, shouldn’t the city’s leaders be sure that the exact plan they voted on has a majority approval among residents?

Sports Fans Coalition continues to oppose the subsidization of professional sports stadiums as long as ticket prices continue to skyrocket, coverage of games from that stadium can be blacked out, the facility is not made available to the public, and the costs for running the stadium fall on local taxpayers.

January 18, 2012   |1 Comment Blackouts, Blog, Issues

On MSNBC, SFC Chairman Goodfriend Delivers Beautiful Rant on Ending FCC Sports Blackout Rule

On Tuesday nights edition of MSNBC’s The Dylan Ratigan Show, Sports Fans Coalition Chairman David Goodfriend delivered an amazing rant on the FCC’s decision to review its sports blackout rule and why this should matter to sports fans. Check it out below and if you’d like to tell the FCC how you feel about blackouts, click here.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

January 18, 2012   |No Comments Blog, Issues

#SOPA/PIPA and Sports Fans

Congress is currently weighing legislation that could have serious implications for Google, Facebook and Twitter. In other words, for the very future of the Internet. But why should sports fans care?

In case you’re unfamiliar, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its counterpart in the Senate, PROTECT IP (PIPA), are the latest industry-driven efforts to crack down on illegal pirating of movies, music and software, as well as sites that stream television programming. Hollywood means business, too – so far the music and movie industries have reportedly spent $91 million in just the last year lobbying to get the legislation through Congress. Both the National Football League and Major League Baseball also support SOPA and PIPA.

It’s understandable that copyright and content creators would lobby Congress for increased protections. Online piracy still exists, despite the successful passage of the music and movie industry’s last effort, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It’s still relatively easy for anyone with a computer to figure out how to find a copy of a newly released album or movie for free or for a user to post such content.

But it’s also easy for users to capture clips of music, movies or games and post them in discussion on the online message board or comment sections of our favorite sites, which is part of what makes the Internet so great. The DCMA allows sites that host user-generated content safe harbor from copyright claims, but the new legislation could end such protections for these sites.

The legislation will allow the Department of Justice to block any offending websites. The legislation lets the Attorney General get court orders to prevent DNS server operators from resolving the domain names of sites in question to their corresponding Internet protocol addresses (DNS filtering). Search engines would also be required to remove or block links to any sites that are accused of infringement. Finally, payment processors and Internet advertising services would be required to cease doing business with any sites that even contain links to online streaming sites. And even if ISPs, advertisers and banks cut off services for an accused site, they will receive full immunity under the new law.

In case I’ve lost you, this legislation seriously messes with the structure (and content) of the Internet in order to squash any piracy websites that existing law hasn’t been able to kill. The legislation is so flawed that a group of prominent Internet engineers said that the sort of DNS filtering being proposed is “not technically feasible” and jeopardizes Internet security advances that have been in the works for 15 years. They explained that, in order to comply with court-ordered mandates in copyright cases, Internet service providers would have to choose between complying with those mandates or maintaining DNS security. In other words, the new law would jeopardize total Internet security.

So if users of a website community post too many copyrighted clips or links to websites streaming games online, rights holders such as the leagues could immediately take action to cut off fans’ access to the website, which could lose access to its advertising revenues. Of course, this is a worst-case scenario, but who knows how aggressively the leagues (along with movie studios, record labels and software companies) will seek to clamp down on perceived infringement. At the very least, it creates a terrible chilling effect and will make for serious (if not fatal) compliance and legal costs for many sites.

Even after all this, of course, users will still seek out sites that offer pirated music and movies and sports fans will continue to visit sites that illegally stream games. These “work-arounds” will always exist. Only with this legislation, users will be more likely to go to malicious sites that leave them more susceptible to identity theft and cyberattacks.

Needless to say, the “Internet” is not going down without a fight. The head of a prominent public interest group just yesterday told me that she’d never seen anything like the online efforts to defeat SOPA/PIPA. For instance, the “Dump GoDaddy Day” campaign, which targeted GoDaddy because of its support for SOPA, resulted in enough domain transfers that the company admitted as much and claimed it was reversing its position. And at least 1,000,000 Americans have already emailed Congress.

When the Senate reconvenes on January 23, one of the first orders of business will be to move Protect IP to a floor vote. There are a few Senators standing in the way, promising to filibuster the bill, which means that 60 Senators will need to support voting on the bill to end the filibuster. If that happens, the bill will likely pass. If there isn’t enough support to end the filibuster, the bill will die or will have to be reworked. Fans of the Internet as we know it should be hoping for the latter.

It is possible to protect the rights of copyright holders and content creators without drastically reshaping the Internet, stifling creativity and potentially shuttering some of our favorite sites. This legislation isn’t it.

Brian Frederick is the Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition. He holds a Ph.D. in Communication and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Email him at brian@sportsfans.org and follow him on Twitter here.

January 17, 2012   |1 Comment Blackouts, Blog, Issues

FCC Commissioner McDowell: Time for “Fresh Look” at 36-Year Old Sports Blackout Rule

Here are FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell’s comments on the FCC’s decision to review its sports blackout rule:

“I am delighted that the Media Bureau is requesting comment on a petition seeking elimination of the Commission’s rules that prohibit multichannel video programming distributors from carrying a sporting event in a community if it is blacked out by the local broadcast station. Taking a fresh look at this 36-year-old rule could be constructive as we look for rules to streamline and modernize.  Over almost four decades, the economics and structure of both the sports and communications industries have experienced dramatic evolutions.  We now live in a world with not only local broadcast stations, but also cable, satellite, the Internet and wireless, and where television and merchandizing revenues exceed ticket sales.  It is appropriate for us to re-examine the rule in light of marketplace changes.”

Exactly. We’re glad Commissioner McDowell, the other commissioners and all the other fine folks at the FCC can see the need for a “fresh look” at what we believe to be an unnecessary and anti-fan blackout rule.

January 17, 2012   |3 Comments Blackouts, Blog, Issues, Uncategorized

Want to Tell the FCC How You Feel About Blackouts? Here You Go

As you know, the FCC is asking for public comment over the next month on its sports blackout rule. The FCC’s rule props up the leagues’ own blackout rules by prohibiting cable and satellite carriers from carrying a game if local broadcasters are prohibited from carrying the game because of league blackout rules. Sports Fans Coalition and other groups have asked the FCC to eliminate this rule because we think the government shouldn’t be in the business of supporting counterproductive and unethical blackout policies.

SFC is currently creating a website to make it easier for you to submit comments to the FCC, but in the meantime, if you’re chomping at the bit to put in your two cents, please see below. Remember that your name and comments will be visible to the public, so please be respectful. But feel free to share the details of your own frustrations with blackouts.

To submit a comment:

1. Your message will need to be in the form of an attachment, so just open up a Word document, write your message and save it.

2. Click here to be redirected to the FCC’s electronic filing system.

3. Where it says proceeding number, enter 12-3.

4. Fill out the required information and attach the saved Word document with your message.

5. That’s it!

Need help with what to say? Feel free to copy or adapt this example for yourself:

It’s time to end to the sports blackout rule.  It is an unnecessary and anti-consumer regulation that only benefits team owners. Fans and taxpayers have already heavily subsidized professional sports, so blackouts are unethical and punish fans who can’t afford the high cost of attending games or who don’t have the right TV provider. The government should not be in the business of propping up sports leagues’ counterproductive blackouts. Keep the games on the air!

January 16, 2012   |No Comments Blackouts, Blog, Issues

Forbes: NFL May Benefit from End of Blackout Rule

Well, this would seem to undermine the NFL’s primary economic argument against eliminating the FCC’s sports blackout rule: Forbes’ executive editor is reporting that the NFL “would likely make more money if the blackout rule is lifted.” Read his piece here: Forbes: NFL May Benefit from End of Blackout Rule

Somebody should ask the NFL about that…

January 16, 2012   |No Comments Blog, Uncategorized

Some Words on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sports from Dave Zirin

Who better to wax eloquently on the great civil rights leader than SFC board member and EdgeofSports.com‘s Dave Zirin. A couple of years ago, Zirin wrote that Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn’t an athlete but he “understood sports.” As we reflect on the enormous legacy of Dr. King, why not take a second to read Zirin’s Sports Illustrated piece: MLK wasn’t an athlete, but he understood importance of sports

We would also encourage you to check out Zirin’s work on a civil rights activist who was an athlete: John Carlos. Carlos and Tommie Smith memorably raised their fists when they stood atop the medal stand at the 1968 Olympics. Carlos said to Zirin: “Dr. King was in my mind and heart when I raised my fist on that podium.”

The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment that Changed the World

January 13, 2012   |1 Comment Blackouts, Blog, Issues, Uncategorized

Confused by Baseball’s Blackout Rules? You’re Not Alone

Much of the coverage of yesterday’s AWESOME news that the FCC is going to review its blackout rule has focused on the NFL’s objections to eliminating the blackout rule. The NFL has previously attacked Sports Fans Coalition in formal comments with the FCC. But we’re happy to fight for fans against the NFL’s unethical and counterproductive blackout rule. The NFL’s rule is simple- if a game isn’t sold out within 72 hours, the game cannot be shown within a 75-mile radius by the local broadcaster. And the FCC’s rule states that cable and satellite companies are also prohibited from showing the game in the local market.

As for Major League Baseball, good luck trying to figure out their blackout rules. As ESPN.com’s John Helyar writes: “Major League Baseball’s TV blackout rules are so dizzyingly complex as to make a tax attorney weep, and the imposition of blackouts is so maddeningly widespread as to make legions of fans scream.” Helyar does his best to make sense of it all and you can read that piece here.

Take the absolutely absurd example of Las Vegas, which is somehow falls within the (home) blackout territory of SIX different baseball teams. As though a fan living in Las Vegas is going to be more likely to attend a game in Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco or San Diego because he or she cannot see the game on television. As Las Vegas Review Journal‘s Jeff Wolf writes, “Even to the most astute, the policy is more convoluted than Abbott and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First?” routine.” Wolf also attempts to explain baseball’s blackout rules, which you can read here.

January 13, 2012   |2 Comments Blackouts, Blog, Issues

Roundup of Coverage of FCC’s Decision to Review Sports Blackout Rule

The FCC’s decision to put our petition on the sports blackout rule out for public comment received some great coverage around the country. Here are some articles in case you missed them:

New York Times: FCC May Move to End NFL Blackouts

USA Today: FCC reviewing sports blackout rules

LA Times: FCC to review NFL’s TV blackout rules

Wall Street Journal: FCC to Review Sports Blackout Rules

Bloomberg: Television Blackout Rule for Pro Sports Events Faces FCC Review

Broadcasting & Cable: FCC Puts Petition Seeking Elimination of Sports Blackout Rule Out for Public Comment

Engadget:Sports Fans Coalition motivated the FCC to review its NFL blackout rules

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