When the NFL relaxed the blackout rule two years ago, allowing teams to declare a sellout if only 85 percent of the non-premium tickets were sold, the Bengals weren’t interested. Now, despite three straight playoff appearances, they are.
“We’re going to stick with the old rule,” owner Mike Brown said in 2012. “What we want to see are sold out houses and we want the stadium full with 65,000-plus people. We don’t want to get to just 85 percent or 55,000.”
Two years later, the team has done an about-face.
“The thought process is simple — we want the games sold out for local TV so as many fans as possible can watch,” Bengals director of ticket sales Andrew Brown said in a statement released by the team. “Having games on TV locally does not benefit the club financially, but it’s in the best interest of the fan base, and we believe it’s in the club’s best interest as well to make local broadcasts more achievable.”
By utilizing the rule, the Bengals necessarily agree to pay to the league’s visiting-team pool half of the face value of any tickets sold beyond the 85-percent minimum in any of the team’s eight regular-season home games. The typical contribution is 34 percent.
Apparently, the Bengals don’t think they’ll be exceeding the 85-percent minimum on a regular basis.
“We’re proud to be one of only five teams in the playoffs each of the last three years,” Brown said. “But the fact is that sales are not as strong to date as we’d like. Even under the 85-percent plan, we will need a strong sales from this point to get games on TV. But the option is helpful, and we are continuing with a maximum sales effort.”
The fact that game can be televised locally with stadiums at 85-percent capacity in the non-premium areas and, in theory, zero-percent capacity in the premium zones cuts against the NFL’s argument that the blackout rule should remain in place to ensure that the images shown over the free airwaves will consist of full stadiums. In Cincinnati, the stadium apparently won’t be full very often this year.
We can only wonder how bad it would be if the teams weren’t so much better than it used to be.