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New blackout rule forces tough business decisions

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The good news for many fans is that the NFL has relaxed its longstanding blackout rule.  The bad news for some teams is that the NFL has relaxed its longstanding blackout rule.

The ability to relax the requirement that non-premium seats beat sold at least 72 hours before kickoff from 100 percent to 85 percent comes with a price, and with a dilemma.

It’s not a week-by-week sliding scale, allowing a team to stay at 100 percent when the Steelers comes to town and push it to 85 percent when hosting a far less popular team (we’d mention a few of them, but we all know who they are and I don’t need their five or six fans sending me nasty emails this morning).  Instead, teams must pick their percentage poison before the season begins.

And if they guess too low, the home team must increase the percentage for every extra ticket above the reduced minimum that goes to the visiting-team pool from 34 cents on the dollar to 50.  If they guess too high, the pressure will be greater than ever for the home team to buy the remaining non-premium tickets at 34 cents on the dollar, a previously overlooked option that has gotten more traction and attention in recent years.

As a result, teams that typically sell all tickets but periodically have to scramble and/or suffer through a blackout will be inclined to not reduce the percentage below 100, opting instead to bite the bullet when the tickets don’t move.  Likewise, teams that chronically are well below the threshold will take the full 15-percent reduction, hope to sell those tickets, and gladly give up an extra 16 cents on the dollar for every ticket sold above the minimum — if/when that ever happens.

But teams who have struggled to sell all tickets may be more likely to see this as a curse than a blessing.  If the team struggles and tickets don’t move in late November and December and the team explains that it opted before the season began to keep its limit at 100 percent, the media and the fans will complain loudly — especially if the team chooses not to buy the tickets that aren’t selling.  And any time the ticket prices go up (especially in the cheap seats), the media and the fans will now wonder whether the team is passing along pre-emptively the 16-cents-per-dollar cost of guessing too low.

Then again, it’s not as if all teams have done a great job of setting the right price points in the past.  If they did, every game would be sold out because every team would understand exactly where the line falls between selling enough and selling not enough.  The new blackout rule introduces a new complication that, regardless of the details, will make the local media and the fans demand that the teams do whatever they have to do to get the home games televised locally.

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34 Responses to “New blackout rule forces tough business decisions”
  1. mancave001 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:13 AM

    A stupid, convoluted decision by the NFL. The “less popular” teams are not so because of ticket prices. They are less popular because the team sucks. People haven’t gone to as many games in Tampa, St. Louis and Miami because those teams have sucked for several years (sorry to any fans here). By contrast, New England, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Giants and others have absolutely no trouble even in a down year. They have a proven track record of at least being competitive.

  2. Mike Florio says: Jul 5, 2012 9:14 AM

    Actually it’s a game at Ford Field from 2009. But don’t let facts get in the way of whining about how your Jaguars are treated by the media.

  3. tennesseeoilers says: Jul 5, 2012 9:18 AM

    “We all know who they are.” Seriously? I’ve been a die-hard NFL fan since 1978 and I’m not clear on which teams have tiny fanbases. Sure, logical guesses would be the Jaguars and Panthers. But who else? My Titans? They’ve sold-out every game since the Oilers changed their name and still have a bunch of fans in Texas, so I doubt it. Who else?

  4. huskersrock1 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:19 AM

    I can tell you what they are going to do next year. They are going to raise ticket prices as a regualr increase 15%. Then they are going to reduce ticket prices 15% for blackout rates.

  5. hoosiermizuno says: Jul 5, 2012 9:32 AM

    This is a trend that is going to keep increasing in the league in the coming years. Lower attendance will start with the teams who have been bad over the years and will start to creep into the mediocre teams. in 5 years the better teams will struggle to sell out.

    this is because of increasing ticket prices, parking prices, stadiums not being family friendly, the home viewing experience is getting so much better w cheap big screens and HD picture, and people wanting to follow fantasy football (ton of money in this).

    I’ve heard so many people that are offered tickets who would rather sit at home with friends and watch all the games on DirectTicket or the RedZone. People are choosing to go to one game or two a year and not every game like they used to.

  6. nflfan1326 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:34 AM

    The “picture” is from Ford Field. The video display is from EverBank Field probably 2 hours before kickoff. Not exactly the most flattering picture.

  7. fieldysnuts says: Jul 5, 2012 9:35 AM

    Love the still picture of Everbank on the video. Showing the standing empty during warmups really proves the Jags have blackout issues. No blackouts in 2 years for the Jags.

  8. kokoskmr says: Jul 5, 2012 9:35 AM

    Why don’t the teams just auction the remaining unsold tickets on ebay (or something like ebay) before they go as unsold? This actually does the insane thing of “allowing the market to set the price”. Even if the tickets sell for less than 34 cents on the dollar, the teams could make up the contribution to the visiting-team pool. The worst case scenario for the teams is that they piss off their season ticket holders by selling alarge number of tickets at a steep discount. of course, then season ticket holder will just start buying tickets this way anyway.

    mancave001: Your assertion that teams that sell out have a “proven track record of at least being competitive” breaks down for the Redskins. They sell tickets despite the fact that they have sucked for nearly two decades!

  9. steelers4385 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:39 AM

    Vilma plans on suing.

  10. johnnybgood19 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:41 AM

    It’s a home game for the STEELERS for at least half of their road games each years because STEELER NATION shows up and the home town fans stay HOME….

  11. pkrjones says: Jul 5, 2012 9:43 AM

    The less popular (non-sellout) teams are that way for a reason… the young fan-base isn’t there. All teams should set the limit at 100%, and then buy-out remaining seats EVERY game. Those tix should be donated to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Boys & Girls Clubs, Make-a-Wish, the local Children’s Hospital and any other kids-oriented organization possible. A little good will goes a LONG WAY with PR and future ticket sales.

  12. jgedgar70 says: Jul 5, 2012 9:43 AM

    No worries for us Panther fans. About 85% of all the seats in our stadium are PSL/season ticket holders. The rest sell out the first day they are available (many purchased by “ticket brokers” who end up being the ones getting soaked when they have to sell the Bucs game tickets for 16 cents on the dollar). I can’t remember the last time we had a game blocked out; it’s been at least 10 years…

  13. nfloracle says: Jul 5, 2012 9:58 AM

    It would be so much simpler to lower prices to an affordable level. Geez, these billionaires just don’t seem to realize a recession/depression is going on for the rest of us.

  14. geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 9:59 AM

    Popularity has nothing to do with success. The Cowboys have won ONE playoff game in an entire generation, the Dolphins havent been relevant since Reagan’s first term, and the Jets haven’t been to a Super Bowl in 43 years. During that same time period for the Cowboys, the Falcons, Bucs, Rams, Titans, Panthers, Cardinals, and Seahawks have been to the Super Bowl. some of them actually won it too.

    Of course, if any of those teams were the top NFL story on SportsCenter and all of ESPN’s 35 other NFL programs, they’d be popular too.

  15. sudz28 says: Jul 5, 2012 10:18 AM

    The problem is that the NFL equates empty seats to a large fanbase unwilling to buy tickets if they can watch on tv. In reality empty seats is a result of a low or uninspired fanbase because they can’t watch the games on tv. Show EVERY game, regardless, and you’ll see your local fanbase grow and then ticket sales rise accordingly. If I couldn’t watch my team on TV each week I’d never get into them enough to bother going to a game. Because I *can* watch them on TV, I stay current with what the team is doing and what the roster looks like, and get excited to attend one or two games a year.

    Oh yeah, and lower the ticket prices to something more reasonable. It’s bad enough we have to shell out $9 for a single beer and $8 for a hot dog.

  16. mancave001 says: Jul 5, 2012 10:18 AM

    geauxjay says:
    Jul 5, 2012 9:59 AM
    Popularity has nothing to do with success.
    —————————

    That’s nuts. Of course it does. It’s not the only factor, but success is what draws crowds.

  17. geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 10:28 AM

    Vilma plans on suing.
    ————————–
    Only if Roger Goodell says he has 50,000 pages of evidence proving that blackouts are Vilma’s fault, refuses to share 49,800 pages of it with him, and then punishes him anyway.

  18. SkeletalDrawing says: Jul 5, 2012 10:33 AM

    mancave001 says:
    Jul 5, 2012 10:18 AM

    That’s nuts. Of course it does. It’s not the only factor, but success is what draws crowds.
    —————————

    Definitely not the only factor – the 49ers occasionally had trouble selling out in the aftermath of the Montana years even when they had Steve Young as QB, while the Packers have sold out every game for almost four decades despite being truly atrocious during the ’70s and ’80s.

  19. geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 10:37 AM

    That’s nuts. Of course it does. It’s not the only factor, but success is what draws crowds.
    ——————————-
    Bull. Look at the Internet and television last year. What was the biggest team? You guessed it. The Dream Team. Oh yeah, the Jets and Cowboys didn’t make the playoffs either. That didn’t stop anybody from force feeding these teams to us, and they’re still doing it this offseason too.

    Same thing for college football. The biggest story every year is “is this year the year Notre Dame becomes relevant again.” For the twentieth year in a row.

  20. raysfan1 says: Jul 5, 2012 11:22 AM

    Actually, if their accounting departments are competent, this should not be very hard. Every team should have sales trend figures for every team they play in their stadium and be able to do some fairly standard statistical analysis to make reasonably accurate forecasts of demand for tickets given who the opponent is.

    Of course this requires acting like a normal business, rather than one whose prior model has been to presume demand for their product is limitless, to insist on getting everything their own way at all times, and to threaten to move elsewhere (LA) if they do not get their way.

  21. bluefan204 says: Jul 5, 2012 11:32 AM

    geauxjay says: Jul 5, 2012 10:37 AM

    Bull. Look at the Internet and television last year. What was the biggest team? You guessed it. The Dream Team. Oh yeah, the Jets and Cowboys didn’t make the playoffs either. That didn’t stop anybody from force feeding these teams to us, and they’re still doing it this offseason too.

    Dead on. The same teams get disgustingly overhyped every single year, and the rest of the country is force fed those teams on a weekly basis. Why? In Philly’s case, it’s Mike Vick, maybe the most overhyped, overrated NFL player that ever lived. He was/is a controvsersial player that drew big headlines, so the media, in their idiocy, thinks that everyone wants to watch him now.

    Tim Tebow. I’m one of the few people that actually likes the kid, but he is grossly overhyped by the same idiotic media, even though he has been mediocre at best, so far, in the NFL. Wait and see how many Jests games are televised this season. Thats the only reason why the Jests traded for him.Publicity and hype, just what Rex loves.

    Dallas. The biggest enigma of all time. For close to 20 years, they have been garbage, but I honestly can’t remember the last time that I wasn’t subjected to a week without having to watch one of their games here in Florida. The hype for them is simply built into the media’s DNA I guess, because these truds will never go away.

  22. fm31970 says: Jul 5, 2012 11:39 AM

    tennesseeoilers says:
    Jul 5, 2012 9:18 AM
    “We all know who they are.” Seriously? I’ve been a die-hard NFL fan since 1978 and I’m not clear on which teams have tiny fanbases. Sure, logical guesses would be the Jaguars and Panthers. But who else? My Titans? They’ve sold-out every game since the Oilers changed their name and still have a bunch of fans in Texas, so I doubt it. Who else?

    Any teams which have installed tarps to cover empty seats, for one, which means the Jaguars. Cincy always has trouble selling out, which is kind of a shame, as they have a nice stadium (been there) and a decent, young team. Tampa lost, what, eight straight games to end the season last year?

    There’s a reason you can’t buy tickets for close to face value at Lambeau, Gillette, Reliant Stadiums.

  23. footballchic777 says: Jul 5, 2012 11:39 AM

    Prices of tix any most stadiums are outrageous. You cannot take a “family sport” attitude, and make the tix so expensive that a day at the park is equivalent to the cost of a summer vacation! Lower the tix price for single game seating, fill the park, and televise the games to grow your fan base.

  24. naanunaanu says: Jul 5, 2012 11:45 AM

    @ johnnybgood19

    yeah i remember the seaason opener last year, the steelers showed up, but most of the steelers fans were gone by the end of the 3rd quarter. Poor steeler fans had to put a lean on their double wide to make the trip to Bmore only go home sad.

  25. Frazier28/7 says: Jul 5, 2012 12:08 PM

    What’s going to happen in 5 yrs when a team like the Cowboys that has $32,000 lower level season ticket holders that don’t want to pay anymore to come to ceasars palace and watch some third string quarterback who probably won’t last even in the CFL.

    Ticket prices are going to get so expensive, as if they aren’t already for 3 1/2 hours of ”there’s a timeout on the field” football, that if and when the product on the playing field drops off in these new jerryworld stadiums that owners are going to have a serious problem just getting to 85% of tickets sold before kickoff let alone 100%.

  26. stairwayto7 says: Jul 5, 2012 12:51 PM

    5 or 6 fans sending emails? Here are the teams that fans never show up to:
    Buffalo, Miami, Jets, Browns, Bengals, Tennessee, Texans, Colts, Jags, Chargers, Washington, Detriot, Falcons, Saints, Bucs, Panthers, Cards, whiners, Rams and Seahawks. I am a season ticket holder for a certain team and I can tell you for a fact what away team fans show uo and who does not! Plus easier to sell tickets for teams not listed above!

  27. mjkelly77 says: Jul 5, 2012 1:20 PM

    kokoskmr says:Jul 5, 2012 9:35 AM

    Why don’t the teams just auction the remaining unsold tickets on ebay (or something like ebay) before they go as unsold? This actually does the insane thing of “allowing the market to set the price” …
    ___________________

    Great idea. Two days ago I bought 4 $75 tickets to last night’s July 4th Detroit Tigers game online for $55 each and it included a parking pass. All NFL teams should do this as well if they’re not filling the stands at full price.

  28. jimmylions says: Jul 5, 2012 1:26 PM

    I like this change in the blackout rule. Ideally the NFL would just get rid of the blackout rule all together, but gives die hard fans of a losing team a chance watch their games.

    Times are still tough for a lot of people, and the cost of going to a game is out of reach for people who are barely hanging in there. Sunday afternoon football can be a nice diversion from reality.

    The old Pontiac Silverdome held something like 90,000+ (100,000+ if it was Hulk Hogan or the Pope). It used to drive me crazy that 60,000+ were at the game (more than most NFL stadiums held) and the game was still blacked out.

    Had this rule existed back then, selling a mere 76,000 tickets to the game would have got it televised.

  29. paragraphfive says: Jul 5, 2012 1:37 PM

    I am not a math guy, but why would there be more pressure on a team that guesses “too high”? Previously, I faced blackout if less than 100% of those non-premium seats were sold. Therefore, I needed to buy all of them (albeit at a discount) in order to ensure local broadcast. Now, I can set my threshold to 90% (meaning 10% unsold doesn’t result in blackout) and even if only 80% pre-sell and I’m stuck buying 10% to get the game aired locally, I’m still better off than I was in the old system where I needed to buy 20% to avoid blackout. Previously, whatever I was spending on the incremental 10% (from 90 to 100%) which I was required to spend to air the game, was effectively reducing my share of the ticket revenue vis-a-vis the visitor’s share anyway. This allows the team to get more games aired and keep the fanbase plugged in more effectively. The next generation of this is going to be dynamic and variable ticket pricing like MLB has adopted anyway so this is just a clunky precursor.

  30. johnnybgood19 says: Jul 5, 2012 2:01 PM

    naanunaanu says:
    Jul 5, 2012 11:45 AM
    @ johnnybgood19

    yeah i remember the seaason opener last year, the steelers showed up, but most of the steelers fans were gone by the end of the 3rd quarter. Poor steeler fans had to put a lean on their double wide to make the trip to Bmore only go home sad.
    =============================
    But the raven fans didn’t go home early, they were already at home counting my money.

  31. pantherpro says: Jul 5, 2012 2:50 PM

    Hey Man Cave,

    Niners have never had problems selling out you fool even though our stadium has 70,000 seats. Maybe some no shows during the lean years but that’ because we live in the most beautiful area in the country and what else do you do in Green Bay but go to games and ice fish? Facial! You must be talking about the trash across the bay known as Raider Blackout city. They give tickets away there and still cant sell out the smallest stadium in football. Maybe they should exchange guns for tickets in Oaktown? Then you got something!

  32. baronvonmonocle says: Jul 5, 2012 3:25 PM

    paragraphfive says:Jul 5, 2012 1:37 PM

    I am not a math guy, but why would there be more pressure on a team that guesses “too high”?
    ———————————————————-

    Because teams that don’t go with the 85% minimum and end up with a blackout will have fans who are upset that the team could have avoided a blackout but chose not to put itself in a position to avoid it.

    I wonder if rules would allow teams that stick with the complete sellout requirement to negotiate with a visiting team for a lower percentage on the tickets that the team buys itself to avoid a blacklout. Of course, the visiting team would have to be convinced that it isn’t a bluff and that the home team would be willing to take a blackout if it doesn’t get a discount.

  33. jacksprat57 says: Jul 7, 2012 8:35 PM

    yeah i remember the season opener last year, the steelers showed up, but most of the steelers fans were gone by the end of the 3rd quarter. Poor steelers fans had to put a lean on their double wide to make the trip to Bmore only go home sad. –naanunaanu
    =============================
    But the raven fans didn’t go home early, they were already at home counting my money. –johnnybgood19
    =============================
    That’s understandable. You know where the Baltimore Ravens get most of their sales leads? They buy the Washington Redskins season ticket waiting list. Then they sort for addresses within 20 minutes driving distance of the Ravens’ stadium.

  34. jacksprat57 says: Jul 7, 2012 8:44 PM

    “I wonder if rules would allow teams that stick with the complete sellout requirement to negotiate with a visiting team for a lower percentage on the tickets that the team buys itself to avoid a blackout.” –baronvonmonocle

    No can do. The % doesn’t go to the visiting team. Instead, it goes to a single visiting team POOL, which is parceled out using whatever socialist math seems best to those so-called “capitalists” (and welfare queens) whom we know as the NFL team owners.

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