New NFL Blackout Option Not Having Much Effect
A tragedy has descended once again on the poor citizens of Buffalo. Another manufacturer isn’t leaving town or a load of residents aren't picking up and moving to North Carolina at once (that will probably continue gradually), but the Bills game tonight will not be broadcast live.
Instead, the clash with the Washington Redskins will be seen on a tape-delayed basis in the coming days. Sounds like NBC’s Olympic coverage.
In line with the NFL’s long-time blackout policy, not enough tickets were sold in Buffalo in advance, so the game is being blacked out. The same goes for live coverage on stations in nearby Rochester in Syracuse.
Instead, the game will air a day later in Buffalo and Rochester and two days later in Syracuse. For the most part, Bills fans have to be thinking, don’t do us any favors.
It seems the high drama in tonight’s preseason game from a Bills’ perspective is what can be divined about who will play left tackle. Seems a groin injury is involved in derailing plans.
For some, it would be nice to get an early look at the quarterback and some other top players, but in the first preseason game, those guys are barely in the game. And how much effort are they putting in?
With a few exceptions such as interest in Denver with Peyton Manning and New York with Tim Tebow, preseason is for diehards eager to know who will be the third-string cornerback or those who pray for healed groins.
There have been complaints about lackluster preseason games for a while. But there is at least one new twist: the commissioner and NFL executives are open to reducing the number of preseason games to two.
Yes, they may want more money from an 18-game regular season, but it's a concession the preseason is too long. Yet, teams still require season-ticket holders to purchase tickets to games they’re acknowledging could be disposed with. Charging full price for an admitted subpar product? Does that work in other industries?
So, it’s good idea for Bills fans to punt and deal with blackouts. The same goes for fans of other teams, who don’t have to buy preseason games to maintain season tickets. The untouchable NFL may not listen, but why not send a message? More and more blackouts will upset TV stations and the NFL does pay attention to TV “partners” and doesn’t like them angry, except when they write checks for rights fees.
Of course, what really ticks off stations are regular-season blackouts. The Bills had two pre-season games blacked out last season, along with three in the regular season.
The NFL argues that relatively few games each season go dark. Yet, during the off-season, the league altered policy to effectively allow teams to only blackout games if less than 85% of tickets are sold a few days before kickoff -- not the traditional complete sellout. Though going with the 85% threshold does change the amount a team collects for a game’s gate, the Bills opted to stick with the full-sellout rule.
In the case of the Buffalo preseason game tonight, going with the lower level wouldn't have prevented broadcast darkness. A lower percentage of tickets than 85% were sold.
This season, only two NFL teams apparently have gone the 85% route: Tampa Bay, which had a slew of blackouts last year, and the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders sold out all eight home games last year, so that has to be a PR move. Maybe it’s a tip of the cap to late owner Al Davis as a way to say to fans “we’re with you and against ‘the man.’”
It’s a wonder other teams haven’t taken the Raiders’ tack. Why haven’t all those NFL teams that always sell out games done so? Even if fans might realize it’s an empty gesture, it can’t hurt. Of course, if the team starts to struggle later, it would look bad to go back to the 100% option.
A group called the Sports Fans Coalition (SFC) welcomes the NFL change in policy, but still is fighting to jettison the blackout rule entirely and has asked the FCC to consider sun-setting it over a period of two years.
The NFL fired off a letter to the FCC reiterating arguments about why it believes the blackout rule is necessary. It also cited its new policy giving teams flexibility, saying it is “consistent with the league’s long-term commitment to promoting the live fan experience” and keeping games on free TV.
The NFL has immense power. It will be interesting how it does against the government.
People in Buffalo and the TV stations should probably get ready for a league win, though.