FIRST ON FOX: A House Democratic lawmaker is demanding an investigation into whether American consumers are being cheated out of thousands of dollars by so-called “sports blackouts” and whether they are a result of broadcast monopolies abusing their power.
“Yesterday was the sports equinox, the one day of the year that all four major professional sports leagues play at once. Yet New Yorkers, who already pay thousands of dollars a year to watch their favorite teams, stared at black screens because billionaire owners care more about profit than their fans. It’s bulls—,” Rep. Pat Ryan, D-N.Y., told Fox News Digital.
“[Y]ou shouldn’t have to buy 6 streaming services just to find out the game is blacked out. The leagues make more than enough money – let’s put power back where it belongs: with the fans.”
“Sports blackouts” occur when a particular athletic event is prevented from being aired in a specific market.
Under a law Congress passed in 1961, sports leagues were granted an exemption to antitrust regulations for greater flexibility negotiating between teams and markets. A subsequent 1992 law gave broadcasters the right to black out content when negotiations with providers fell through.
But years later, “sports blackouts” have come under scrutiny as the exploding number of streaming services and television channels has allowed leagues to make lucrative deals with various providers – with little regard for American consumers, Ryan argued.
In a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Ryan called the blackouts “a source of frustration and inconvenience to Americans of all backgrounds.”
“As a result of policies adopted by major sports leagues and broadcasters, fans in their home team’s territory are blocked from viewing nearly all of their team’s games on any platform other than their local regional sports network (RSN), forcing them to subscribe to the RSN while out-of-market viewers have their pick of cheaper, more comprehensive streaming services,” Ryan wrote.
“Even RSN subscribers can be blacked out when the league sells the exclusive rights to certain games to streaming services like Prime Video, as happened over 20 times to New York Yankees and Mets fans over the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) regular season.”
He is calling on the GAO to look at the prevalence of sports blackouts over the last 10 years, and what, if any, effect the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 had.
He’s also urging the GAO to analyze what role Congress and federal regulators can play in breaking up the monopolies that lead to consumers getting taken advantage of.
A dispute between cable provider Spectrum and media giant Disney led to a blackout of ESPN and ESPN+ content for 10 days, leaving Spectrum customers unable to watch the U.S. Open and college football despite paying full price for the ability to do so.
That blackout ended just before Monday Night Football, but not before garnering significant media attention.