Fan groups and legislators are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider the NFL’s home-game blackout rule. The policy denies people from watching games...

Fan groups and legislators are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider the NFL’s home-game blackout rule. The policy denies people from watching games on local television when the home team does not sell all of its tickets.

Since 1973, the NFL has stipulated that a game that has not sold out at least 72 hours before its start time cannot be televised in the local market. A Washington, DC-based lobbying group, the Sports Fans Coalition, along with other public policy groups and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has petitioned the FCC to repeal the rule.

“We’re optimistic,” Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fans Coalition, told TicketNews. He said the next step would be for the FCC to open up the issue for public comment.

Eleven games this season have been blacked out locally, NFL director of corporate communications Dan Masonson told TicketNews. That’s trending downward compared to last season, when 26 games were blacked out.

Of the 11 this season, four were Cincinnati Bengals games and five were Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, including the most recent December 4 game against the Carolina Panthers.

The Bucs have responded to their attendance woes by announcing price reductions for 80 percent of tickets at Raymond James Stadium next season. Price levels will remain the same for the other 20 percent of tickets.

Included in the decreases are children’s general admission tickets (dropping from $17.50 to $15), some adult general admissions (down from $35 to $30), and some lower-level end zone seats (falling from $89 to $75).

Florida state Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) introduced legislation in Tallahassee requiring the state’s three NFL franchises (the Bucs, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins) to lift blackouts.

Sen. Brown stepped up his support of the petition after the Bengals’ November 27 game with the cross-state rival Cleveland Browns was not shown in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. The NFL defines the local area as falling within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.

“With the NFL seemingly unwilling to reconsider its blackout policies, I’m urging the FCC to take a fresh look at the sports blackout rule and allow fans to watch their home team play on television,” Brown said in a statement. “The taxpayers who built many of these stadiums should have broadcast access to them.”

The Bengals have had eight of their past nine home games blacked out, dating to last season when a 57-game sellout streak ended. The NFL maintains the blackout rule is needed to keep their games on free television.

“Its goal is to strike a balance between encouraging fans to attend games and allowing the games to continue to be broadcast on free television,” Masonson wrote in an e-mail to TicketNews. “The NFL is the only sports league that broadcasts all of its regular-season and playoff games on free television. At least four games are shown on free TV and basic cable (ESPN) in every NFL market each weekend during the season.”

Frederick, whose group has received funding from Time Warner Cable and Verizon, argues that new technology has rendered the blackout rule obsolete. Additionally, he believes that public funding of stadiums should allow local fans to see a game on TV whether it’s sold out or not.

“Gone are the days when ‘rabbit ear’ TV sets were how most Americans watched video,” the petition reads. “The Sports Blackout Rule therefore only serves to preserve an archaic and anti-consumer approach to disseminating sporting events.”

In Buffalo, the December 4 game against the Tennessee Titans was blacked out; blackouts also threaten the team’s final two home games. The Bills are reportedly seeking $100 million in public money for stadium improvements.

The lure of visiting Denver Broncos‘ quarterback Tim Tebow helped the Minnesota Vikings avoid their first blackout in 14 years on December 4. The Vikings are another NFL team looking for a new stadium.

“Those are particularly egregious examples” of the need to lift the blackout rule, Frederick said. “Taxpayers funded around $6.5 billion in current NFL stadiums.”