The NFL is making it easier for TV viewers to watch their home team’s games, especially if their teams don't completely sell out local games. Call this “new sports marketing in tough economic times.”
The rule used to impose a local TV blackout if tickets weren’t completely sold out 72 hours before game time. Now owners can opt for just hitting at the 85% level. But if a team then sells more tickets, it must give a bigger share to the visiting team.
This doesn't seem like much, especially when other monies are made. The NFL continues to reap big gains from TV contracts, and the individual teams get from high prices for game tickets. The NFL also gets around $200 from each fan who can't get enough football and wants to see every possible game from so-called "out of market" contests through DirecTV.
Some complaining team owners seem to have had enough, especially with an economy that’s still weak in many parts of the country. Owners not only benefit from ticket sales but also from the promotion for their games that run during the big national TV games on Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN.
NFL fans and Congressional representatives have long been angry at the NFL about local blackouts. For its part, the NFL said only 6% of its games needed blackouts last year.
No one wants to see empty stadiums while teams are playing. You see some of this in other sports. But the NFL has a precious few games -- 16 overall, and eight home games each, per team. Miss out on selling tickets in a particular stadium, and an owner can blow a big part of the seasonal take.
But it comes down to marketing efforts to fans. Think of the guys sitting in a bar who might want to see, say, the Bengals, the Chargers or perhaps the Bills. Maybe it's other teams doing great that affects local ticket sales.
Then the problem gets compounded. If you can't see a team locally in your bar or at home, why should you care? And everything goes downhill from there. Imagine the fans screaming at their bartenders: "Los Angeles Rams" or "Houston Oilers!"