Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961

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The Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961 affects Title 15 of the United States Code, Chapter 32 "Telecasting of Professional Sports Contest" (§§ 1291-1295) [1]

Overview[edit]

The Sports Broadcasting Act was passed in response to a court decision which ruled that the NFL's method of negotiating television broadcasting rights violated antitrust laws. The court ruled that the "pooling" of rights by all the teams to conclude an exclusive contract between the league and CBS was illegal.

The Act overrules that decision, and permits certain joint broadcasting agreements among the major professional sports. It recognizes the fact that the various franchises in a sports league, while competitors in the sporting sense, are not as much business competitors as they are interdependent partners, whose success as enterprises is intertwined, as a certain level of competitive balance between them must exist for any of them to remain viable enterprises. Therefore, it permits the sale of a television "package" to a network or networks in which the league members share equally, a procedure which is common today. Of the four major North American professional team sports, the Act is most pertinent to the NFL, as all of its regular-season and playoff games are covered by the rights assigned by its various packages with the networks, including its own.

The law has been interpreted to include the so-called "blackout rules" which protect a home team from competing games broadcast into its home territory on a day when it is playing a game at home, and from having to broadcast games within its home market area that have not sold out. It also, in effect, protects high school football and college football game attendance by blacking out pro football games locally on Friday evenings and Saturdays during those sports' regular seasons; these measures effectively outlawed the broadcasting (and, in practice, the playing) of NFL games on those days, since virtually all of the country is within 75 miles of at least one high school game on every Friday night in September and October.

Exceptions[edit]

This portion of the act has since been partially circumvented; the NFL extended its season in 1978 to allow several weeks of Friday night or Saturday games if the league so wished. Late-season Saturday games have been common since then, but Friday night games are still extremely rare; the league has played only eight Friday games since 1978, mostly because of the NFL's restrictions during Christmas. (In 2005, a Miami Dolphins-Kansas City Chiefs matchup, scheduled for Sunday, October 23 in Miami, was moved back to 7pm Friday night due to Hurricane Wilma. The game was televised only in the south Florida and Kansas City TV markets, and was not seen nationally.)[2]

College football[edit]

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)'s broadcast packages are not subject to the antitrust exemption and it suffered for it, when the Supreme Court ruled that the NCAA's restrictive television policies were a violation of antitrust law in the 1980s when the University of Georgia and the University of Oklahoma sued the NCAA over television restrictions (limit of six television appearances over two years) established in 1952. However, after their court victory, neither Georgia nor Oklahoma made serious efforts to market their own television packages, but instead followed the lead of their conferences, the Southeastern Conference and the Big 8 Conference respectively.

The College Football Association, an alliance of 64 schools from some of the major conferences and selected independents, sold their own television package in 1984, first to ABC, and later to CBS. The Big Ten and Pac-8 conferences, not CFA affiliates, sold their own separate package, to ABC.

By 1990, the landscape changed. ABC had both the CFA, Big Ten, and Pac-10 packages, and NBC the Notre Dame home package. It was once again relegated to limited appearances.

The CFA collapsed, and in 1995, the Southeastern Conference signed a national deal with CBS. They are the only major conference guaranteed a national "game of the week" because ESPN's games may come from any of the conferences they offer.[3]

Current views on the Sports Broadcasting Act[edit]

In November 2006, former Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, (D-PA) proposed legislation to repeal the NFL's antitrust exemption under the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961.

Specter's concern was based on the National Football League's NFL Network, which is available in a limited number of homes, as compared to the other broadcasters of the NFL. For the 2006-07 NFL season, each NFL team annually earned more than $120 million in shared TV money. The league's officials negotiated various deals with CBS, NBC, Fox, and Disney, and ended up with a six-year (later extended to eight), $24 billion broadcast and cable rights contract. The television deals end in 2013. Additionally, DirecTV paid $700 million every year through 2010 for its Sunday Ticket package. The NFL also decided to keep an eight-game Thursday-to-Saturday night package in-house, placing it on its NFL Network.

Both the Sunday Ticket and NFL Network became issues of concern to Specter, possibly because DirecTV rival Comcast is headquartered in Pennsylvania. Comcast's Versus network attempted to bid for the eight-game package the NFL gave to their own network, but lost.

The NFL Network's high per-subscriber fees charged to the cable companies force cable firms to offer the channel as a premium-tier network. This, according to the NFL, is unacceptable, and they demanded their channel be placed on a basic tier, as compared to the higher-priced sports tiers. By doing so, cable companies would have to reduce the number of basic channels or increase the basic cable package rate to comply with the NFL's request. NFL rules however, require that NFL games shown on cable channels (including the NFL Network), be shown on a broadcast television station in the markets of the participating teams (subject to blackouts when necessary).

The other major concern is the lack of availability of NFL Sunday Ticket, restricting it severely through its exclusivity with DirecTV. A similar situation happens with NASCAR HotPass, which moved from the cable companies to DirecTV in 2007, and thwarted by Major League Baseball's MLB Extra Innings, which MLB attempted to push to DirecTV exclusively starting in 2009, but was stopped by threats from legislators.

In what may have been a goodwill gesture to Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey and, in an effort to sway Specter, the NFL gave Time Warner and Cablevision subscribers a free week of programming between December 24 and December 30, 2006. The timing allowed subscribers to tune into the Rutgers–Kansas State Texas Bowl matchup and another college bowl game featuring Minnesota and Texas Tech. Lautenberg had complained that many Rutgers fans in New Jersey were being unfairly denied the opportunity to watch Rutgers in the Texas Bowl because the NFL Network, which has rights to the game, had not yet reached deals with Cablevision and Time Warner Cable.

References[edit]