One of five FCC commissioners will vote to appeal NFL blackout rule

A general view of Ralph Wilson Stadium during an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)
A general view of Ralph Wilson Stadium during an NFL football game between the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – One of five commissioners in charge of the Federal Communications Commission is pushing to sideline the NFL blackout rule once and for all.

Ajit Pai returned to the city of his birth Tuesday to share his views with some of the NFL’s most passionate fans.

Commissioner Pai, after munching on chicken wings and pizza at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, said, “Our job at the FCC is to enforce the public interest, not the private interest of team owners.”

Under the 40 year old blackout rule, there is no televising of games in the team’s home town unless tickets are sold out 72 hours in advance. Sports fans have formed coalitions objecting to the blackouts.

Del Reid of the Buffalo Fan Alliance spoke out on behalf of Bills fans who cannot make it to the stadium for games. They include the elderly and those with handicaps.

While they will often purchase Bills merchandise, he said, “It’s important for them to root for their team while watching on television.”

Bradley Brakeman of the National Sports Fans Coalition said some people just can’t afford the average NFL ticket price of $82, plus all the other expenses.

“Parking, tickets, you buy yourself a beer, feed your kids. It’s not a decision that’s made on a whim anymore because of expense. You’ve got to plan to go to a game.”

Commissioner Pai stood with Congressman Brian Higgins, who has fought hard to have the FCC repeal its sport blackout rule. Higgins said the NFL owes it to the fans.

“We talk about the 12th man,” he said. “We talk about all these metaphoric attributes of a loyal fan base. Let’s do something substantial for the fans.”

Higgins said, “Commissioner Pai’s announcement builds momentum toward the goal of ending sports blackouts once and for all.”

In communities like Buffalo, their NFL teams are part the region’s identity, even if a team like the Bills hasn’t made the playoff in 14 years.

Die-hard Bills fan John Aiken said, “It’s an affliction I’ll never get rid of. Born red, white and blue, dyin’ red, white and blue.”

Commissioner Pai, whose family left Buffalo when he was a little more than a year old, admits he’s a Kansas City Chief’s fan. His family had moved to Kansas. However, he knows how passionate and loyal Bills fans are to their team.

“Football’s place in Buffalo, is so sacred,” he said. “What the fan base has done for the team here is tremendous.”

He added, “Getting rid of the sports blackout rule would only deepen that sense of community, that sense of connection.”

Commissioner Pai says he has not polled his fellow FCC commissioners, but expects they will make a decision in the near future.

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