At a time when some politicians want to end blackouts for any stadiums built or maintained with public money, Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press looks back more than 40 years, at a time when all games, sold out or not, were still blacked out in the local market, and when the U.S. Commander-in-Chief despised that policy.
Murphy dusts off transcripts of the recorded conversations at the Nixon White House, quoting the late former president regarding his disagreement with the concept of blackouts.
“I think that’s terrible,” Nixon said. “I think I might call them up and say, ‘Put it on TV or I’ll sue them all.’ I’m all for it. I’ve said that several times.”
Nixon particularly was miffed in December 1972 because the Redskins would soon be playing a postseason game at sold-out RFK Stadium — but no one in D.C. would be able to watch it.
“I think it’s a bad policy,” Nixon said at the time. “Listen, get the whole bunch, get the whole country riled up. That’s my point. Why just make it a Washington story?”
Not long after that, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst met with Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The offer was simple. Lift blackouts for playoff games, and Congress won’t require that regular-season games be televised in home markets. Rozelle declined, and by 1973 all games sold out within 72 hours before kickoff were televised in the home team’s market.
Renewed attacks on the current policy come at a time when the NFL desperately wants more people to choose to attend games. If the government ever takes away the stick of a blackout, the league will would have to come up with even better carrots to ensure that the stadiums will be full.
Only so many bells and whistles can be added to the experience. At some point, the league needs to find ways to reduce the cost of the experience. Or, possibly, to shrink the size of the stadiums.