Blackout (broadcasting): Wikis


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In broadcasting, a blackout is when certain programming, usually sports, cannot be televised in a certain media market.

The purpose is theoretically to generate more money by obliging certain actions from fans, either by making them buy tickets or watch other games on TV. While financially a logical procedure on the part of those providing the programming, blackouts are frequently unpopular with the affected audience as it will cause some fans to miss the game completely even if they were willing to enter the stadium and pay.

Canadian federal elections results are a prominent exception of non-sports-related programming that is subject to blackout. The reason for this is because of the numerous time zones, and since polls close at different times in the country, results from one region may influence voting in the next.

A similar term, known as preemption (or pre-emption), often refers to stations blacking out a program for other than regulatory or governmental reasons, such as when a local station preempts a network program for local news (an example of a regular preemption) or a special program (an example of a one-time preemption).




Federal Elections

Perhaps the most notable non-sports-related blackout in television is the blackout of Canadian federal election coverage. Because there are six time zones in Canada, polls close in different parts of the country at different times. Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act outlaws publishing election results from other ridings in constituencies where polls were still open, ostensibly to prevent the results from eastern ridings from influencing voters in the West.

However, in the federal election in 2000, one Paul Charles Bryan published results from Atlantic Canada on the Internet despite being told not to by the authorities. Bryan was charged before the Provincial Court of British Columbia, but fought the charges as unconstitutional under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression and freedom of association. Bryan's victory before the British Columbia Supreme Court meant that voters in British Columbia and the rest of Canada legally learned of election results in other ridings during the federal election in 2004.[1] However, Bryan lost his case before the British Columbia Court of Appeal. He further appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, but in a ruling made on March 15, 2007 the Court ruled that Section 329 of the Canada Elections Act is constitutional and justified under section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Stephen Harper, who later became prime minister, labelled Elections Canada "jackasses" and tried to raise money for Bryan. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation also supported Bryan, hoping to "make election night a bigger event that it already is."

Before the 2000 election, Elections Canada moved to reduce the effects of the blackout and the influence of unauthorized knowledge of election results in Western ridings by altering the times that polls close so that polls no longer close at the same local time throughout the country. Polls in Atlantic Canada now close at 9 p.m. Atlantic (9:30 in Newfoundland). Polls from Alberta to Quebec close an hour later (9 p.m. Eastern, 8 p.m. Central and 7 p.m. Mountain) and finally, polls in B.C. close an hour after that (7 p.m. Pacific). Historically, the results of the election are often not decisively known until more than an hour after polls close in Ontario and Quebec, but are usually known within two hours of these polls closing.

Provincial elections are not subject to blackout restrictions - in those provinces that have two time zones the vast majority of the population lives in one time zone or the other. Election laws in these provinces stipulate that all polls are to close at the same time - this time invariably being 8:00 p.m. (or 9:00 p.m. in Ontario beginning with the 2007 provincial election) in the time zone of the majority.


All Canadian Football League games on TSN are subject to local blackouts. For example, Edmonton Eskimos home games are not broadcast in Edmonton or the immediate surrounding area to ensure that fans buy tickets. In the case of Saskatchewan Roughriders home games the blackout zone covers the entire province of Saskatchewan, largely because that team relies more than the others on province-wide support.

The home team has the option of lifting a blackout for games that sell out. Unlike in the NFL however, the home team is not obliged to lift a blackout in such cases.


Unlike the policies governing professional football broadcasts, the National Hockey League has no blackout policy that is dependent on ticket sales, therefore nationally televised games on Hockey Night in Canada are never blacked out in any part of the country. However, no other broadcasters are allowed to air games on Saturday nights.

The cable network TSN holds the national rights to selected games through the year. On Wednesdays TSN holds a similar monopoly to the CBC on Saturdays. Rogers Sportsnet holds the regional rights to the Canadian teams, except Montreal. Like TSN, Rogers splits their network for those games.

In the French language RDS broadcasts all of its Montreal Canadiens games across the full network.

United States

MLB/NHL blackout policies

Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League have very similar blackout rules. Unlike the National Football League, the blackout of games have nothing to do with attendance. Games are blacked out based on two criteria:

1. Local broadcast and cable stations which contract with a team to show their games in the local market have priority to televise those games over national broadcasters (assuming that the national broadcaster does not have exclusive rights to the game, as discussed below). If ESPN or MLB Network telecasts a game, and the game was scheduled to be telecast by the local rights holder, the game will be blacked out on ESPN or MLB Network in that market (usually replaced by ESPNews if the game is blacked out on ESPN, alternate feed of MLB Network if the game is blacked out in the local market). Similar blackouts occur on other networks which telecast nationally, such as WGN, although this would be considered a local broadcast in Chicago respectively since the network only cover its local team (the game would be blacked out in the opponent's market only). (The same restriction was in place when TBS televised the Atlanta Braves, which was a local broadcast in Atlanta.)

Also, ESPN's blackout zone is larger than that of the superstations.[2]

2. The Fox network has exclusive nationwide rights for MLB games on Saturdays between 3:55 PM ET and 7:00 ET and ESPN has the same rights for games on Sunday after 8:00 PM ET. Games beginning in these periods of exclusivity can only be telecast by the network holding the exclusive national rights. Games that run long, such as extra inning games that run past 7 PM ET on Sundays, are not cut off. Also, ESPN sometimes waives this for the Texas Rangers and Florida Marlins. These two teams play in open-air stadiums in extremely hot climates, making night games a necessity in the summer months. For FOX, this generally applies to one time-slot per market, since its coverage is not usually a doubleheader. Thus, local television coverage is allowed during the other time-slot, but the game will not air on MLB Extra Innings. Starting with the new MLB TV contract in 2007, TBS will telecast a Sunday afternoon game-of-the-week, but no nationwide exclusivity is granted to the network. The same contract will grant Fox more flexible start times for broadcasts and may expand the window of exclusivity.[3][4]

In the NHL, the policy has changed in recent years. Now, most national cable games are shown throughout the country. Occasionally, the league will grant its cable partner an exclusive window and not schedule any other games involving U.S. teams at that time. For NBC's network coverage in the 2006–2007 season, only games it televised could air during its window, airing different games by region. The coverage was changed in the 2007–2008 season to a Game of the Week format.

If a regional sports network owns the rights to two NHL teams that are competing in the same game, the NHL will allow the channel to use SAP to carry commentary from both teams throughout both teams' coverage areas on the same channel. This most commonly happens with MSG Network, which owns the broadcast rights to four NHL teams from fairly disparate areas: New Jersey's New Jersey Devils, Long Island's New York Islanders, New York City's New York Rangers, and upstate's Buffalo Sabres. For instance, though MSG will only produce one pregame and postgame show for a game between the Islanders and Sabres, they will carry the Sabres Hockey Network on the main audio feed in upstate New York and the Islanders' commentators on SAP; however, in New York City and Long Island, viewers hear the Islanders broadcasters on the main feed and the Sabres commentators on SAP.

Additionally in the NHL, local and regional networks are not granted broadcasts rights for national televised games by Versus or NBC. A recent controversy arose in 2009 when satellite provider DirecTV stopped offering Versus following a dispute with Versus owner and competitor Comcast. Games broadcast by Versus are now no longer available to DirecTV subscribers.

In MLB there are no radio blackouts. However, for many years, the radio networks of the two participating ballclubs in the World Series were not allowed to air games. This changed after 1980, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies were angry that they couldn't hear their popular broadcasting team of Harry Kalas and Richie Ashburn call their run to the title. Since then, only the flagship stations of the two participating ballclubs can originate coverage, though their broadcasts are also available on XM Satellite Radio. XM is required to broadcast the home, away, and both English and Spanish national feeds of the World Series. All other network affiliates of the two clubs must carry the feed from MLB's national partner (currently ESPN Radio), and they may not even be able to do so if they compete with an ESPN Radio affiliate in the same market. The two flagships must broadcast ESPN Radio national commercials (though they can run live commercial reads during broadcasts and sell ads during typically extended pre/post-game shows).

Additionally, radio stations (including flagships) may not include MLB games in the live Internet streams of their station programming. This is because MLB itself offers radio feeds as a pay service, and free radio streaming would make it impossible to sell this service. Some stations will replace the game with a recorded message explaining why the game cannot be heard on their stream. Others will simply stream the station's regularly scheduled programming that is being preempted by the game.

The NHL has no radio blackouts.

NBA blackout policy

The NBA and the WNBA used to black out nationally televised games on cable TV within 35 miles (56 km) of the home team's market; however, these are now restricted to games on NBA TV.

NFL blackout policy

In the NFL, any broadcaster that has a signal that hits any area within a 75-mile (120 km) radius of an NFL stadium may only broadcast a game if that game is a road game, or if the game sells out 72 hours or more before the start time for the game.[5] If sold out in less than 72 hours, or is close to being sold out by the deadline, the team can sometimes request a time extension. Furthermore, broadcasters with NFL contracts are required to show their markets' road games. Sometimes if a game is very close to selling out, but not quite there, a broadcaster with rights to show the nearly sold out game will buy the remaining tickets (and give them to local charities) so it can broadcast the game (usually, this would involve no more than a few hundred tickets because of cost). Other teams elect to close off sections of their stadium, but cannot sell these tickets for any game that season if they choose to do so.[6] As a result, if the home team's game is a Sunday day game both networks can air only one game each in that market. (Until 2001, this rule applied whether or not the game was blacked out, however, this was changed because some markets virtually never aired doubleheaders as a result.) Usually, but not always, when each network can show only one game each in a market, the two stations work out between themselves which will show an early game and which will show a late game. This only affects the primary market, and not markets in a 75-mile (121 km) radius, which always get a doubleheader each Sunday.

The one exception to the rule is for the Green Bay Packers, which have two overlapping 75-mile blackout zones—one surrounding the team's stadium in Green Bay and another surrounding Milwaukee. The team's radio flagship station is in Milwaukee, and the Packers played part of their home schedule in Milwaukee from 1953 through 1994. However, blackouts do not come into play for the Packers, as they have sold out every home game in Green Bay since 1960 and have a decades-long season-ticket waiting list.

The NFL blackout is considered to be detrimental to financially struggling teams. For instance, most notably, the Los Angeles Rams were unable to sell-out their home games during their last years in that city. So a blackout further robbed the franchise of potential revenue and alienated remaining fans. They then moved to St. Louis.

For other games, no station within 75 miles (121 km) of an NFL stadium may broadcast a game unless it has an affiliation deal with one of the local teams involved. One instance of the practice of this rule was over Hartford, Connecticut CBS affiliate WFSB trying to air a New England Patriots-New York Giants game for December 29, 2007, which would be carried only on the NFL's cable network NFL Network that at the time was available only on a sports channel package of Comcast Cable in the immediate viewing areas of the Patriots and Giants.[7]

On December 12, 2007, Broadcasting & Cable reported that Senator John Kerry and Rep. Ed Markey, both of the state of Massachusetts and fans of the New England Patriots team, wrote to the NFL as well as Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable to request that the Patriots-Giants game be aired at least on basic cable in order to reach the highest possible number of television-viewing fans, as at the time the Patriots were undefeated, and Kerry and Markey viewed the game as "potentially historic", according to John Eggerton of B&C.[8] Kerry clarified the next week that he did not intend to interrupt current negotiations between the cable operators and NFL.[9] On December 19, 2007, representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) and other members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation wrote to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to try to have the NFL allow wider broadcast access to the game.[7] Consequently, on December 26, the NFL approved the game to be simulcast from NFL Network to both the CBS and NBC networks., along with WLVI in the Boston market and WWOR-TV in the New York City market.[10]

For radio broadcasts, the NFL follows a nearly identical policy to MLB. There are no radio blackouts, but only each team's flagship station can carry local broadcasts during the conference championships or Super Bowl. All other markets must carry the NFL on Westwood One feed for those games. For all other weeks, within 75 miles of a team's stadium, only stations the team or its flagship station contracts with can carry those games, regardless if the team is home or away. Thus, any competing station that carries Westwood One broadcasts cannot air those games. Like MLB, the NFL makes local broadcasts available on FieldPass and Sirius Satellite Radio; as a result, radio stations that carry NFL games, from any source, and stream on the Internet are prohibited from streaming games online.


Major League Soccer applies local blackout rights for the broadcasts of the following teams as a part of MLS Direct Kick:

Game availability

MLS DIRECT KICK contains MLS games originating from either a regional sports network (RSN) or a local over–the–air (OTA) station and delivers these games to customers who purchase this subscription. These games are not otherwise available to DIRECTV subscribers because they are broadcast outside of a subscriber's local area. Further, MLS games shown nationally on ESPN, ESPN2, TeleFutura and ABC are not included as part of this sports subscription.


  1. ^ "Supreme Court upholds blackout on early election night results". (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). 2007-03-15. Retrieved 2007-06-26. 
  2. ^ MLB Extra Innings Blackout Information
  3. ^ Pasaan, Jeff (2006-07-11). "Selig's Promise". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 2006-09-11. 
  4. ^ Hiestand, Michael (2006-07-11). "TBS drops Braves games, joins Fox in rich TV deal". (USA Today). Retrieved 2006-09-11. 
  5. ^ NFL Sunday Ticket FAQ
  6. ^ Lomeli, Andrew (2006-10-10). "NFL blackout blunder". The Stanford Daily. Retrieved 2007-07-03. 
  7. ^ a b Eggerton, John (2007-12-21). "WFSB Wants Patriots-Giants Game". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  8. ^ Eggerton, John (2007-12-12). "Kerry Wants to Huddle with NFL, Cable Operators". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  9. ^ Eggerton, John (2007-12-18). "Kerry Continues to Pressure NFL, Comcast, Time Warner". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2007-12-21. 
  10. ^ Hemingway, Jon (2007-12-26). "NFL OKs Patriots-Giants Game for Broadcast". Broadcasting & Cable. Retrieved 2007-12-29. 


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