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Antiquated and Asinine: NFL’s Outdated TV Blackout Rule May Sack Three Cities This Weekend

Concha: NFL's Asinine TV Blackout Rule May Sack Three Cities This Weekend

When it comes to ranking the popularity of professional sport leagues, there’s the National Football League…and there’s everyone else.

$10 billion annually in revenues. NFL telecasts—particularly on Sunday nights–always the top program in its timeslot. 30 million people—including over five million women—now play Fantasy Football. Needless to say, Commissioner Roger Goodell is one of the most powerful men in the country right now.

So that’s why it was shocking to see that three playoff games this weekend in Green Bay, Cincinnati and Indianapolis…actually hadn’t sold out yet. What makes this development particularly interesting from a television perspective is the NFL’s antiquated blackout rule, which states if a team doesn’t sell every last seat (in this case by 4:35 PM EST Friday), the game gets blacked out locally in the home team’s market. Considering many of these stadiums were built on the backs of taxpayers, not allowing them to watch their team because they’re not reaching deeper into their wallets is (for lack of a better term)…rich.

In Ohio the situation has now become political, where Senator Sherrod Brown (D) is livid that Bengals’ fans at home may not be able to see its team take on the San Diego Chargers in this weekend’s Wild Card round.

“This is unacceptable at a time when the price of attending games continues to rise and the economy is not yet where it needs to be,” Brown said in the letter sent Thursday. “Fans, through local taxes, often help pay for the stadiums. They should be able to cheer on their local teams, especially during the playoffs.”

What makes the rule antiquated is simply a matter of revenue and how it gets generated. Back in the 1973 when the rule was first introduced, NFL teams largely depended on ticket sales for the bulk of its revenue. That aspect has drastically changed with the improvement of television (cable, larger screens, more camera angles, invention of high-def, etc.), resulting in rights fees going from millions then to billions now. Consequently, ticket sales are basically an afterthought now…it’s truly all about the tube and networks outbidding each other for the monster ratings that come with the package.

Ironically, technology has made the league what it is now, but in the process has assisted in hurting it at the gate. With HD and relatively affordable flat screens populating an increasing amount of living rooms across the country, the experience of watching a game at home has become so awesome, the urge to attend a game live has diminished.

After all, why spend 6-8 hours of a day off battling stadium traffic, pay insane parking fees (locally here at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, the cost for parking alone is $250.00 for eight regular season home games), drop hundreds on just halfway-decent tickets, pay $10 for ONE beer, and be subjected to overserved idiots when you can have a better, infinitely more cost-effective game experience without ever leaving your home?

And if you live in Green Bay or Milwaukee, not leaving the homestead means avoiding certain frostbite that comes from sitting outdoors in minus-30-degree wind chills, as is the forecast this Sunday’s 49ers-Packers tilt. But remember, the league says if you don’t help buy up the remaining 5000 tickets available at Lambeau Field, you’re not seeing this game in any capacity. Ironic considering the Pack–which is publicly owned–has sold out every regular season game since 1959.

So should the NFL punish its fan base by blacking out games because they fall a few thousand seats shy of selling out a game, particularly when the money generated isn’t remotely as crucial as it used to be?

Is TV technology now compelling fans to stay home?

The answers, respectively, are no and yes.

No other league owns the hearts and minds (and wallets) America today.

If the Commissioner knows right from wrong, he’d punt on the whole blackout rule.

Now.

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>> Follow Joe Concha on Twitter @ConchaMedia

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