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NFL Sees Red Over Blackout Strategy

February 6, 1996

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ After suing 70 bars for showing blacked out NFL games, the league has turned its attention to a satellite dish company that allegedly told customers how to beat television blackouts.

A $200,000 federal lawsuit against the company marks the latest step in an aggressive campaign by the NFL to stamp out pirated telecasts.

The NFL made its strongest anti-piracy effort this season in Buffalo, where team officials have linked subpar attendance with unauthorized showings of Bills games.

Ronald Cameron, owner of Advanced Cable Innonvations of Tonawanda, said the procedure for getting blacked out games is common knowledge among dish owners. How customers use their satellite dishes is their business, he said Tuesday.

``I didn’t do anything wrong,″ Cameron said. ``I’m just a small, little satellite dealer. I’m not hiding anything.″

The lawsuit was filed late Monday in U.S. District Court by the NFL and the Buffalo Bills.

Cameron, 56, circulated a flier advertising his business this fall bearing the headline ``Tired of Paying High Cable Bills? Never Miss a Blackout Game.″

Tola Murphy Baran, vice president of marketing and sales for NFL Enterprises, said she received about a dozen complaints about the ad from rival satellite dish companies. Cameron said the ad meant that anything unavailable through regular television is blacked out.

Two undercover investigators for the league bought a satellite dish from Cameron’s company and then received instructions from a salesman on how to get around the blackout, Bills attorney Vincent Tobia said.

Under federal communications and copyright laws, it is illegal for Bills’ games to be shown on TV within a 75-mile radius of Rich Stadium when games have not been sold out in time to meet the NFL’s blackout deadline.

Over the past two football seasons, the NFL and the Bills have sued about 70 area bars and restaurants for $200,000 each over airing the games. Tobia said that if a game is blacked out, the rule even applies to people watching the contest in their living rooms.

So far, no lawsuits have been filed against homeowners and Murphy Baran said such a step would be unlikely.

The league has sued one other satellite dish company, a Miami distributor last season, she said. That suit was settled out of court.

``This is certainly something where if it is brought to our attention, we will take action,″ she said.

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