The NFL's blackout rules have been a source of frustration for NFL fans for some time now. However, the Wall Street Journal is reporting the NFL is significantly loosening blackout restrictions for the coming season. Last season, the NFL blacked out 16 games in five markets, which was actually an improvement over 2010 when 26 games were blacked out. Blackouts were a particularly tough topic in Buffalo, Tampa Bay, San Diego, and Cincinnati last season. Other teams have had trouble selling enough tickets to the public, but have seen tickets gobbled up by sponsors and corporations to avoid the dreaded blackout.
But now, finally, the landscape is changing. The NFL's old blackout rule (created back in 1973) dictated that games not completely sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff could not be seen in the local market, within 75 miles around the stadium. In the 70's, this made sense, but not 40 years later. The new NFL blackout policy will allow teams to sell tickets up to just 85% capacity and still avoid a blackout.
The change could end most or all NFL blackouts. *Hallelujah Chorus Interlude*
In Tampa Bay, where 13 of 16 home games the last two years have been blacked out, the new rules would create a seismic shift. It's been reported that all seven blacked out home games in Tampa Bay last year would be shown on local TV last year if the 85% rule had been in place. The blackout rule just didn't make sense in a smaller market like Buffalo where Ralph Wilson's stadium capacity is well above the league average at over 70,000. In theory, Buffalo could sell more tickets than most teams in the league... and still be blacked out because of the larger stadium capacity.
Cincinnati has been another market hit hard by blackouts. Back in December, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke out against the NFL's blackout policy saying it was "unnecessary" and an "outdated relic." Then, the NFL fiercely defended their blackout policy that kept fans and families from watching games at home instead of spending nearly $500 dollars at the stadium.
The blackout policy is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets; keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds; and ensuring that we can continue to keep our games on free TV. Playing in full stadiums with thousands of fans is an important part of what makes NFL football an exciting and special entertainment event, both live and on television. We have a limited number of games and do not want to erode the incentive to buy tickets. Every market receives more than 100 NFL games on free TV every year, regardless of the blackout policy.
The change in the blackout policy is far, far too long in the making. The NFL is a television sport. It makes billions and billions of dollars from television contracts. It was nothing short of tonedeaf and heavyhanded to be so diligent in keeping a family of four in Cincinnati or Buffalo from possibly watching their favorite team play, especially in this economy and how well the NFL is doing.
Blackouts have decreased over time, but this is a sensible change that was long overdue. The NFL has finally listened to their fans and loosened their blackout restrictions. MLB, it's now your turn. Maybe you should field a few of those phone calls from baseball fans in Iowa who can only watch the Mariners.