But Congress did pass legislation the following month preventing blackouts of professional sports games that are sold out 72 hours beforehand. Nixon signed it in time for the 1973 season.
NFL executive Joe Browne, a college intern under Rozelle in the 1960s and now senior adviser to the current commissioner, Roger Goodell, said in an email to The Associated Press this past week that Rozelle faced a "pick-your-poison" choice.
"The reason the White House/DOJ deal did not pan out was that Pete was more comfortable with what he was hearing from Congress," Browne wrote. Rozelle simply preferred lifting the blackout for 72-hour advance sellouts to the risk that postseason games might end up with half-filled stadiums, Browne believes.
The blackout law has since expired, but the NFL agreed to make it league policy.
The Federal Communications Commission passed a regulation in 1975 preventing cable systems from carrying a sporting event that is blacked out on local broadcast television stations, effectively reinforcing the NFL blackout policy. But the FCC is now considering a petition by the Sports Fans Coalition to rescind this rule, which would seriously dent the league's blackout policy, although it wouldn't affect viewers who don't subscribe to cable or satellite.
At his news conference before the Super Bowl, Goodell noted that the league had only 16 blackouts in 2011 and said the goal is zero. The commissioner said the NFL has to balance making games available on free TV with encouraging fans to come to the stadium.
"The policy has served us very well over four-plus decades," he said.
The number of blackouts has decreased steadily over the years: 50 percent of games in the 1970s (after the 1973 law), 40 percent in the 1980s, 31 percent in the 1990s, and 8 percent in the 2000s. Last season's 6 percent was the fifth-lowest, according to the NFL.
But some teams still have high numbers. The Cincinnati Bengals had six of their eight home games blacked out last season, for example, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were blacked out five times.
"Blackouts may be down nationally, but tell that to the folks in Tampa," said Brian Frederick, executive director of the Sports Fans Coalition. "By and large, the cities paid for these stadiums."
That group receives money from Verizon, which provides pay TV, and has received funding from Time Warner Cable in the past. But Frederick insisted the coalition "driven by fans."
In another previously unreported taped White House conversation the week before the first 1972 playoff game, Nixon vented to Kleindienst and White House aide John D. Ehrlichman about the game not being televised locally.
"The folks should be able to see the goddam games on television," he said. "Playoff games. Playoffs — all playoff games should be available.
"Now, you might say this. You might also point out, and say listen, just so you understand ... the president is not speaking for himself in this instance, because he's going to be in Florida. And he's going to be watching the game in Florida — it's going to be carried there. But he's speaking for all the people in Washington that didn't vote for him," Nixon said to laughter. The president had lost only the District of Columbia and Massachusetts in his landslide 1972 victory over Democrat George McGovern.
"Put it right that way."
Audio of President Nixon and his attorney general discussing a deal to end NFL blackouts during playoffs: http://bit.ly/y6uMgQ
Follow Fred Frommer on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ffrommer
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