Many NFL fans are settling down for a weekend of four wild-card playoff games. Fans are lining up to match their fantasy picks to the coming wins in local bars or crowding in their living rooms. Earlier this week, however, fans in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Green Bay had more to worry about than the choice of watching from sofa or barstool for their team’s games. Because of the NFL’s blackout policy, these three cities and their fans were threatened with not being able to see the game outside of the stadium. The blackout rule is a decades old policy that prevents the team’s home market from airing the game if the stadium is not sold out. If, at 72 hours before game time, the stadium had not sold a sufficient percentage of the house, then a blackout was enforced.
Home fans were left with watching alternative programming on the home channel and keeping up with the score some other way. At the time, the blackout ruling was to prevent fans from staying home to watch the game on television and leaving a stadium half full. When the decision was made, it was easier for families to afford tickets; they were also able to enjoy stadium amenities such as food and drink without breaking the bank. Although the blackout rule applies to all televised sporting events, the NFL is the most avid enforcer of the rule.
These days, a lot has changed. One important change is the price of tickets. They are expensive for regular season games, however the price of playoff tickets is often increased, making it virtually impossible for everyday fans to attend those games. Season ticket holders are offered the option of buying playoff tickets; they are often sold in packages, the ticketholder has to pay in advance, with the money held by the teams sometimes for several months. In this economy, putting out such a huge amount of money is not often possible, especially for those who have already spent a good deal for a season ticket package. So, how did the three cities involved avert the blackout crisis this weekend?
In Green Bay, fans and a group of corporate partners, led by the Associated Bank based in Green Bay, bought the remaining tickets, believed to number about 40,000. In Indianapolis – Meijer, a corporate sponsor of the team, procured the last 1,200 or so tickets and donated them to military families in the area. Corporate sponsors also bailed out the Cincinnati Bengals from the blackout crisis. Kroger and Proctor & Gamble bought out the remaining tickets and the sponsors also offered them to active and veteran military families. The possible NFL blackouts have attracted the attention of local politicians, who have long been a foe of the blackout rule. They contend that the threat of blacking out a game because of low ticket sales is an insult to current fans, particularly in the light of the NFL’s antitrust exemptions and taxpayer subsidies. The NFL is against any change in the rule, it is to be seen who comes out the winner in this conflict.
By Jacki Williams-Jones