Blackout loophole could give union some labor leverage

Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers somehow were able to consistently avoid local blackouts of their home games despite the fact that Raymond James Stadium often featured a sea of red seats in the upper reaches of the venue.

Now that the Jets are facing the possibility of unsold PSLs — and the customer-relations challenges inherent to dumping the PSL obligation for seats in the vicinity of seats for which the PSL already has been bought and paid for — Neil Best of Newsday has identified the silver bullet that a team can utilize in order to ensure that the three-hour infomercial will air on local television.

His article explaining the dynamic is trapped behind a pay wall, but Best has spoken about the loophole to the folks at

“I was not aware of this until this week, frankly, and several prominent,
experienced people I know in pro football were not aware of it either,” Best said.  “But, sure enough, it turns out a team can cut a check for 34 percent of
the face value
of unsold tickets to cover the visiting team share and,
presto, problem solved!”

If that’s the case, it puts those breathless efforts to sell remaining tickets via an extension of the 72-hour deadline a little ridiculous.  Let’s say 5,000 tickets are unsold with 72 hours to go and the home team has finagled a 24-hour extension to sell the seats.  And let’s also assume the average price of the unsold tickets is $100.

What the fans are never told is that the billion-dollar business facing the banishment of its product from local television can remedy the situation by writing a check to the road team for, under the assumptions made above, $170,000.

Sure, that’s a nice chunk of change.  But with each team getting hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the league’s TV deals, coughing up $170,000 is a no-brainer, especially since the expenditure is a write off.

This rule, if truly available, puts every future threatened blackout in a fresh perspective.  As fans are begged by guys like Jared Allen to break out the cashish and buy tickets, the question eventually becomes whether the team will break out some of its far more ample supply of cashish and ensure that the game will be televised locally.

The loophole takes on even greater significance in light of the ongoing labor drama.  With each side trying hard to curry favor with the fans, the union now has a potential tool for making mischief if/when blackouts are threatened in 2010.  The weekly statement from Executive Director De Smith could go something like this:  “We find it unfortunate that [insert name of team] has opted not to invoke the rule permitting a blackout to be avoided by paying [insert opposing team] 34 percent of the face value of the remaining tickets.  In this case, that would cost [insert name of team] only [insert estimate of total cost], a small fraction of [insert name of team]’s total annual revenue.  The NFL Players Association wants all NFL fans to be able to watch their local teams when those team are playing at home.  We think that [insert] is a small price for [insert name of team] to pay to allow that to happen.”

Thus, the league’s best approach might be to quietly get rid of the rule that Neil Best discovered.

21 responses to “Blackout loophole could give union some labor leverage

  1. Did you really think they had to pay face value?
    Are you really this naive or is it an act?

  2. I’m not surprised to learn that the rule has been kept a secret. How else will you spur fans on to come to the game if that got out?

  3. The blackout rule is in place to sell tickets not give them away. The more you make it easy for people to get something for free the less they are likely to be willing to start paying.

  4. I’m sure a team like the Jaguars is going to fork over $1,020,000 for their 30,000 unsold tickets..!

  5. Why does everyone have such an entitlement perspective?
    Why do people think that fans have a right to watch their team’s games from home?
    If you want to see you team – buy a ticket.
    If you can not or will not buy a ticket – deal with the consequences.
    Real simple.
    In like manner – if the owners are unable to sell their tickets:
    A) Reduce the price
    B) Improve the quality on the field
    C) move the team to a location that will support them

  6. …and let’s say that a third of the teams (10 for the sake of arguments) eat that half-a-million half the time……..10 teams x 4 games = 40 games x $500,000 = $20,000,000.00
    I think neither the owners nor the players association favor a reduction in revenue of $20M!!

  7. I bet the local Minneapolis corporations like 3-M, General Mills and Pillsbury are thrilled to hear of this. All these years of having the Viking ownership leaning on them to buy crummy seats in a dump of a stadium and the solution set was in the Vikings own lap.
    It might help if the fan base were willing to buy the tickets, that would be a great first choice.

  8. The Jags have done this in the past. It is no secret. Team and corporate bail outs to avoid blackouts is done all the time. What is the point of blackouts anymore?

  9. It sure makes the vikings look stupid. They have leaned on everyone in Minnesota to buy tickets and their 2009 playoff game had only 61,000 attending and 10,000 of those were Eagles fans.
    Now when the vikings want the locals to pay up big time for stadium, the locals are sitting on their hands more than ever because they have been lied to by the vikings.
    The new city that the vikings move to will know this and not tolerate threats.
    The Jaguars cut ticket prices so they can do this more cheaply next season.
    The callous lies of Jared Allen and the vikings will sway the politicians further away from voting in taxes for viking stadium in Minnesota.
    None of the good teams ever have to worry about this.
    Perhaps it is time for the NFL to contract to 30 teams, cut 106 union jobs, and thus improve the product on the field.

  10. Actually, if a team wanted to eliminate this cost of the buyout, it could first buyout the visitor’s portion of the unsold seats, offer these unsold seats to season ticket holders for 50% off, which would likely generate at least the amount of the revenue that the visiting teams share of the unsold tickets would generate (i.e. if approx. 84% of the 5000 unsold seats were sold at half price, this tactic costs the team nothing and promotes a benefit to season ticket holders). Where do they price these unsold, most likely least desirable seats, at $100 a piece? I am going to venture to say that the buyout of 5000 unsold seats would be significantly less than $170K. I’m going to guess the average seat price for these noseblead seats would be in the $50-$60 category making it cost more like $85K or 91K as a cost to the team.

  11. Does anyone really think the average fan is going to pay attention to that “{insert team Name here } example?
    Many of the comments made on this site have no relation to the original statement made by Florio or whomever. Of those that do, the commentor often misquotes the article they are commenting about.
    The point being, the average “jerk” fan does not pay that much attention. (I mean the collective WE here can’t even pay attention) They just want their football and will blame the players or the owners based on minimal information. And that information will likely be based mostly on whom they WANT to blame.
    So this blackout angle will have close to ZERO baring on any lock out or strike.

  12. # Leroy’sButler says: May 14, 2010 3:46 PM
    JimmySmith speaks of the truth.
    He may speak of it, but more times that not, he certainly doesn’t speak it…

  13. The arguments in favor of a blackout rule are rendered moot by a cursory glance at ANY other pro sport (none have blackout rules).
    The “breathless efforts to sell tickets” are foolish, considering that the team is only trying to deal with a rule created by the league office… which ultimately derives power only from the team owners.
    In other words:
    What they say: “If you don’t buy tickets, the league won’t let us broadcast the games.”
    What the owner is really saying: “If you don’t buy tickets, I won’t let me broadcast the game.”
    In a normal business, if you’re not selling out of your product, you alter the pricing. This is retail 101. You don’t threaten to withhold your advertising. And yes, it’s advertising for the league – remember how well NHL was doing before it got airtime on ESPN?
    Who does the rule hurt? Everybody. The fans (f*** them anyway, right NFL?), the leagues broadcasting partners, and even the league itself.
    Only the truly short-sighted think this rule has any value.

  14. League Response
    We find it fortunate that [insert name of Union Leader] has brought to our attention the rule permitting a blackout to be avoided by paying [insert opposing team] 34 percent of the face value of the remaining tickets.
    The NFL wants all NFL fans to be able to watch their local teams when those team are playing at home. Since this would be a new cost for the NFL to carry, we propose that this cost be excluded from the revenue pool pie prior to the players receiving their pay.
    In this case, that would cost only [insert estimate of total cost]. We think that [insert] is a small price for [insert name of Union] to pay to allow that to happen so our fans can enjoy this great game”.

  15. I think it’s time the federal government became involved, a unsold ticket bailout program. They could assign the tickets to those on the unemployment roles. Maybe hold a post-game job fair as an inducement for Viking fans. Poverty sucks

  16. ben_waballs says:
    May 14, 2010 2:54 PM
    You don’t even know what a write off is? Do you?
    No Ben………but THEY do………and they just write it off!

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