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The Tulane Law School Sports Law program provides students with the background necessary to understand and handle problems unique to the sports industry.

Tulane Sports Law Blog

Friday Night Lights: What’s With NFL Scheduling?

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By: Andrew Sensi

Football fans can watch football almost any day of the week in the fall, but the NFL fan is generally limited to Sunday and Monday nights.  That is, until the leaves begin to change colors and the NFL can be seen on Thursday night, Saturday, Sunday and Monday night.  Have you ever wondered why the NFL broadcasts games on Thursday night instead of Friday? Or, why they only play Saturday games late in December?  The answer lies in the Sports Broadcasting Act of 1961("SBA")i   which prevents NFL broadcasts from competing with college football games.

History of Sports Broadcasting and the SBA

To understand the SBA is to understand the tidal wave of change that occurred in the middle of the 20th century that forever altered the way the country viewed live sporting events.  At the turn of the century, the only way to view a sporting event was to be physically present at the site of the event.   However, radio and television changed the ways in which sports fans could "consume" a sporting event.

In 1920, the first radio broadcast of a college football game took place. Then, in 1939, NBC televised the first live sporting event - a baseball game between Columbia and Princeton.  Five months later, NBC televised the first professional football game - the Brooklyn Dodgers vs. the Philadelphia Eagles.  At first, these telecasts were viewed in limited numbers.  For example, in 1948, only 190,000 television sets were in use in the United States. But, by 1950, that number had skyrocketed to 10.5 million.

The rising accessibility and popularity of televised sports represented a threat to live-game attendance, which at the time was the primary revenue stream for professional teams.  In 1953, in an attempt to protect live ticket sales, the NFL adopted a rule preventing the broadcast of outside games into a team's home market, regardless of whether it was playing at home or away.ii  As a result, the Department of Justice initiated an antitrust suit against the NFL.  The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania found the away-game restriction to be an illegal restraint of trade.  But, it found the home-game restriction to be reasonable because protection of "home game attendance is essential to the very existence of the clubs."iii  As a part of the court's final judgment, it enjoined the NFL and its member clubs from making any agreement which had the purpose or effect of restricting the areas within which broadcasts or telecasts of games may be made.iv

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