The FCC wants to drop the curtain on the NFL’s blackout policy. Predictably, the NFL intends to push back.
“We will strongly oppose any change in the rule,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told Politico.com. “We are on pace for a historic low number of blackouts since the policy was implemented 40 years ago. While affecting very few games the past decade, the blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds.”
This year, relaxations to the league’s rules have resulted in only one actual blackout, in San Diego. The Chargers, however, likely would have avoided the blackout if they’d taken advantage of the rule that allows teams to reduce their minimum sales requirement to as few as 85 percent of all non-premium tickets.
In other cities, teams have avoided blackouts by reducing the minimum and/or purchased on a per-game basis extra tickets at 34 cents on the dollar.
It’s unclear (at best) whether and to what extent fans of a given team choose to attend games simply because they fear that if enough of them don’t show up no one will be able to watch the game on local TV. In today’s world, with the in-home experience better than ever and plenty of options available for watching out-of-market games, the possible inability to watch the local team play its eight homes games may not be much of a factor at all in the analysis of whether tickets should be purchased.
In other words, how many would-be customers ever ask themselves, “If I don’t buy tickets to the local NFL game, will I be able to watch NFL football?”
Besides, if the NFL’s desire to make the games more compelling on television entails ensuring large crowds, why would the league allow teams to televise games with up to 15 percent of the non-premium seats empty — and all of the premium seats vacated? Why would the NFL allow owners like Ralph Wilson to buy up thousands of Bills tickets to allow the local broadcast of a game with plenty of fans dressed as empty seats?
Opponents of the FCC’s proposed rule think the agency is solving a problem that doesn’t exist. In turn, the NFL could be worried about a consequence that will never occur. Taking away the stick of a blackout likely won’t affect ticket sales.
And if ultimately compels the NFL to be more creative when it comes to crafting the carrots that will get fans to continue to choose to attend NFL games in person, dumping the blackout rule may not be such a bad thing.