The National Football League announced Monday that its owners have voted to suspend the league’s long-standing local TV blackout rule for the 2015 season.
NFL vice president of communications Brian McCarthy tweeted that the policy will be suspended for one year, and owners will evaluate the impact after the season.
According to Greg Aiello, the NFL’s senior vice president of communications, there were zero blackouts during the 2014 regular season. There were two in 2013.
Blackouts have been in place in the NFL since the 1950s, when team owners believed showing local games would damage attendance. In 1973, the current league policy — which mandated that games not be shown on local television if a minimum number of tickets were not sold — was put into action.
Last September, the FCC repealed its sports blackout rules, denying reinforcement of the league’s blackout policy. The NFL has long fought for its blackout policy, arguing that taking them away would adversely affect attendance.
The repeal of the FCC’s blackout rules did not affect the NFL’s ability to maintain the blackout policy through existing broadcast contracts, but with the league coming off a year in which it had zero blackouts, it decided this was a good time to test whether a no-blackout rule would affect attendance.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt said he voted in favor of suspending blackouts.
“From a practical standpoint, I don’t think it will have a big impact on the league,” Hunt said. “There’s been a push in Congress to at least push the FCC to do away with the blackout policy. We just felt, given the direction things headed in D.C., it would be worth trying a year with the amended policy.”
The experiment is a huge step for the NFL. In the 1970s, half of NFL games were blocked from local TV because the games did not sell enough tickets. Some teams — Tampa Bay, Miami, Jacksonville, Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego — have struggled to avoid blackouts, and the league is taking a bit of a gamble for 2015.
The policy stipulates that a home game must be sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff in order to be televised locally. Often, that deadline is extended to ensure sellouts if a club believes it can meet the criteria for lifting the blackout.
The league’s definition of a full house is not selling every seat but a large percentage of them, depending on the venue. The policy does not apply to suites or club seats.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.