The peace and prosperity of the National Football League may be disrupted any day now by an annoucement that the House subcommittee on communications will conduct hearings on antiblackout bills, four of them, as early as next month.
FANS (Fight to Advance the Nation's Sports) has an issue that has met with public response and a spokesman said, "We will try to make our opinion felt by every member of Congress, by mail and by personal lobbying."
This is an election year and FANS notes that it is working together with two legislators who have introduced bills to ban blackouts if games are 95 percent sold out. "It was basically our suggestion," the spokesman said of similar proposals introduced by Reps. James J. Florio (D-N. J.) and Donald W. Riegle (D-Mich.).
Sen. Robert P. Griffin (R-Mich.) and Rep. Paul G. Rogers (D-FLA.) have introduced bills that would lift blackouts if games were sold out 48 hours beforehand.
All four bills would become permanent law if passed. In 1973 a three-year experimental law was voted that lifted blackouts if games were sold out 72 hours beforehand. When that law lapsed after the 1975 football season, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle agreed voluntrily to carry on the spirit of the law for 1976 and 1977.
The House subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin (D-Calif.), and FANS have been awaiting an annoucement from Rozelle that the NFL will continue the blackout polic.
There has been speculation that Rozelle is under pressure from some club owners to reimpose blackouts on a more limited basis. It is expected that the NFL will demonstrate that season-ticket sales have been seriously affected by the lifting of blackouts.
Congress is said to believe there has been no observable, serious impact and that the NFL could absorb any loss because each club will be getting an average $5 million-plus from new television contracts over the next four seaons.
The sentiment expressed is that the fans deserve to have the blackouts lifted because they have contributed to the television revenues, indirectly, through the purchase of products advertised on game telecasts.
The networks prefer that blackouts be lifted to that the maximum number of viewers may be exposed to their commercials. Votes by congressmen to lift blackouts involve no risks with their contituencies.
Chairman Van Deerlin is believed to be waiting for a sign that the Senate leadership will go along with the House, because two years ago the House passed legislation that would have been permanent but the Senate agreed to have the NFL carry on a voluntary antiblackout policy.
FANS says it has been requested to act on complaints about the Miami Dolphins blacking out all of their games; the Los Angeles Rans blacking out San Diego and making it compulsory to buy Pro Bowl game tickets with season tickets and ab out officiating in a game at Eauston which cost a loss to Cincinnati.