Last month, Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) called for the NFL to end its “failed” blackout policy, after said policy successfully had prevented six of seven Bengals home games from being televised in the Cincinnati area.
On Thursday, the FCC decided to seek public comment on the elimination of rules that prevent blacked out games from being televised via cable and satellite operators. If those rules are eliminated by the FCC, blackouts essentially would end.
Per Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, the NFL’s position is that the blackout policy helps keep all games on free television. Opponents contend that the league now makes the bulk of its money from the sale of TV rights, and that blacking out games due to the presence of unsold non-premium tickets unfairly prevents consumers from watching the games on television.
The move comes at a time when the NFL is struggling in multiple markets with a chronic inability to sell out stadiums. In places like Jacksonville, St. Louis, Miami, and San Diego, teams at times are buying, either directly or through sponsors, the unsold tickets at 34 cents on the dollar, which is permitted by league rule.
Ultimately, the issue becomes whether the teams are setting prices accurately. Every team wants its home games to be televised locally, since the broadcast of a game represents a three-hour infomercial in support of the franchise. But if teams simply can’t sell out on a consistent basis, the teams need to reduce the prices of the tickets until demand and supply properly intersect, or the teams need to win more games and hope nature will take its course.
Regardless, with each passing cycle of multi-billion-dollar TV contracts, it’s hard not to think that the box office receipts have gone from being the primary source of revenue to a secondary stream of cash, at best. Games played in stadiums that, for most teams, received direct or indirect public funding should be available for the public to enjoy, regardless of whether the team that plays in the stadium knows how to properly ensure that all tickets to the game have been sold.
Since the NFL supports its desire to expand the regular season to 18 games by saying the fans want it, here’s a chance for the fans to make their wishes known on the blackout rule.