Lobbyist Takes On NFL Blackouts, Comcast, Taxpayer-Funded Stadiums
Credit: arstechnica.com
September 2, 2014

I've been arguing for years that the easiest way to get progressive public policy is to attack corporate monopolies from the consumer perspective, a la Ralph Nader and Nader's Raiders. Forcing politicians to enforce existing consumer laws (or change them) is a much easier lift than a constitutional amendment revoking corporate personhood, because people in both parties hate their cell phone and cable companies. (And the NFL blackouts.)

Would the average person pay $10 to join a consumer organization that was fighting to break these corporate monopolies? Hell, yes!

Since 1973, the National Football League has prevented local TV stations from broadcasting games when tickets aren’t sold out—and Federal Communications Commission rules enable this decidedly fan-unfriendly policy. The rules are finally close to being overturned, and if they are you can thank David Goodfriend.

Founder of the Sports Fans Coalition, Goodfriend is an attorney and lobbyist with years of experience in government and private industry. He was a Clinton Administration official, a Congressional staffer, legal advisor at the FCC, and executive at Dish Network. The Sports Fans Coalition teamed with four consumer advocacy organizations in 2011 to petition the FCC to stop supporting the NFL’s blackout regime.

In practice, the FCC rules primarily benefit the NFL because the nation’s other major sports leagues don’t punish fans by keeping games off local TV when they aren’t sold out. The NFL has resorted to astroturfing to make it seem as though the general public supports blackouts, and dismissed opposition from fans as being incited by cable and satellite companies. NFL attorney Gerard Waldron (who also lobbies for broadcasters on other matters) disparaged Goodfriend’s motivations, telling Ars that the Sports Fans Coalition “has received funding from Dish, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon,” and that Goodfriend “has close and longtime ties to Dish as their former in-house lobbyist and now is an outside consultant.”

“It’s beyond politics”

Most of that is true, Goodfriend acknowledges, but that doesn’t mean fans aren’t on his side. Fans have written to his organization “in their own words and oftentimes in their own hand why they hated blackouts so much,” Goodfriend told Ars in a phone interview. “We had a disabled veteran, an elderly woman, people who say ‘these blackouts don’t inspire me to go to the games because I can’t go to the games.’”

Fans also wrote to the FCC in support of the Sports Fans Coalition petition to end blackout rules. The FCC itself voted 5-0 last December for a preliminary proposal to get rid of the rules.

Only cable and satellite companies want to overturn blackout rule, NFL claims.
“It’s beyond politics,” Goodfriend said. “It’s something that a progressive consumer advocate can support and it’s something a conservative deregulatory person can support.” The FCC has three Democrats and two Republicans, often casting 3-2 votes on controversial matters, but was unanimous in taking the first major step toward ending its support of blackouts. The FCC has been taking public comments before making a final decision. Goodfriend hopes for a vote next month.

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