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Should the NFL’s television blackout rule be applied to voting, too?

HAMBURG — Forget for a moment that the Buffalo Bills are having a dismal season. Pretend that the team is in playoff contention and generating excitement, across Western New York.

The majority of residents would be drawn to television coverage of the team, like moths to a flame. All home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium would be sure sellouts, guaranteeing all fans the opportunity to see the Bills win or lose.

But the team is not doing well, this year, and when the games do not sell out, this opportunity is snatched away from us faster than you can say, “home-field advantage.”

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-26th District, wrote Federal Communications Commission then-acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn in August, requesting elimination of the sports blackout rule.

“Football hasn’t even entered the regular season and yet, Western New Yorkers are already facing blackouts of Buffalo Bills football games,” he said. “A determination by the FCC of whether this policy is in the public interest is worthy of a serious and long-overdue consideration.”

Earlier, Higgins said fans should not be “punished” and denied the opportunity to see their hometown team on television, especially when its stadium has been supported through their tax dollars.

“This is a matter of fan fairness,” he added.

What this boils down to is the almighty dollar. If the team sells all of its seats for a home game before the deadline, the game will be broadcast. It’s blackmail. There is no real incentive to buy tickets, since most of us are content to watch the contest from the comfort of our own homes. If we bought a ticket, we’d have to commit to spending the entire day driving to the stadium, tailgating, watching the game itself, waiting for the lots to clear and driving home.

What if the same rules applied for voting?

Imagine that the majority of Americans was genuinely interested in participating in government and took the time to vote. Only those who made the effort would be allowed to reap the benefits provided by local, state and federal governments, as the case may be.

People who did not vote would have their government-provided services terminated. No leaf pickup, no refuse collection, no snow plowing, no access to libraries or recreational facilities.

As Higgins said, it’s a matter of fairness.

The FCC’s rule prohibits a cable or satellite operator from circumventing ancient agreements between sports leagues and TV stations ,by importing a distant signal of a game that should be blacked out, according to the Los Angeles Times. In other words, if a Bills game was blacked out, a satellite company, for example, Dish Network, could not import the signal of the game from elsewhere and show it here.

The NFL is opposed to lifting the blackout rule. Cable operators and satellite broadcasters want to eviscerate it.

“Would a pay-TV distributor really want to incur the wrath of the league and the broadcasters they do business with by showing games that otherwise would not be available?” asked the Los Angeles Times.

A blackout rule applied to voter participation might create a black market for services, although I cannot imagine covert garbage collection becoming a fact of life.

Anyone who says real fans should show their loyalty by buying tickets is being unrealistic. I would say that any “real” citizens should show their loyalty by voting in any general election, primary, school district and special district race for which they are eligible.

No television viewers in the Buffalo area saw the 1993 game when the Bills pulled off the greatest come-from-behind victory in NFL history, since it was blacked out. I listened to Van Miller call the play-by-play.

The Bills won, despite the blackout, and I’m pretty sure I voted that year, too.

David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at


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2013-11-17 | 16:12:55
"In Brazil and Peru, non-voters are banned from carrying out various administrative transactions (Brazilians cannot apply for passports or sit professional exams, in theory at least), as well as facing small fines."