NFL Eases Up On Local TV Blackout Rule

Average attendance at NFL games has dropped each of the past five years and is down 4.5% overall since 2007. Realizing that maybe it’s not the best idea to punish football fans by blacking out local TV broadcasts of home games that aren’t sold out, the NFL has decided to ease up on the rules governing when a game would be blacked out.

The NFL decision isn’t just in response to angry fans. A lot of the pressure comes from two ends of the francise-owner spectrum. Those whose teams regularly sell out games would like to expand seating without the risk of blackouts. Meanwhile, those franchises that have avoided blackouts by either taking seats out of commission or by buying up blocks of tickets are sick of doing so.

Thus, the owners have changed the rules to lower the minimum blackout threshold to 85% of tickets. So for a stadium that seats 40,000 people, 6,000 of those seats could go unsold without the game being blacked out.

According to the Wall Street Journal, only one of the five teams with the worst attendance in 2011 (St. Louis, with an average attendance of 85.3%) would be above this limit. While the other teams — Buffalo Bills (84.8%); Washington Redskins (83.9%); Miami Dolphins (81%); Cincinnati Bengals (75.2%) — would remain at risk for blackouts, even with the revised threshold.

Game Changer: NFL Scrambles to Fill Seats []


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  1. Blueskylaw says:

    So let’s see. If I saw a sporting event on TV that was pretty empty, I would probably say to myself it’s nothing exciting and change the channel; if I saw a sporting event on TV and every seat was sold out I would probably watch it thinking it must be good and might even be tempted to buy tickets to future events.

    The NFL and its ǝpısdn uʍop thinking.

    • T-Bone says:

      That is strange. A game can still be good even if the stadium isn’t full. Attendance doesn’t determine the quality of the game.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        I think over the long run, if a stadium is consistently empty, it probably signifies a not so exciting atmosphere. If a stadium is consistently jam packed, it probably means you’re in for an exciting time.

        • dush says:

          Or just that it’s not so exciting to pay $150 for a crappy seat in bad weather when you can watch the otherwise very exciting game in the comfort of your living room.

          • Jawaka says:

            This is it for me. I think that I’m a pretty big sports fan but I’ve only gone to a handful of live games in my lifetime. I’d much rather watch the game at home and get a better view of the game while hearing the play by play commentators. Oh, and I don’t have to pay $10 for a beer at home or $20 to park my truck.

          • alexwade says:

            I don’t know about you, but when I go to a NFL game I want to have bad weather. Football just seems to be more fun in the rain, snow, or cold. A football stadium is always a little warmer than the area around it, so the worst weather for a football game is hot weather. I’ve been to games when it hot outside (even hotter in the stadium) and when it was cold and rainy. The cold and rainy game was the game I enjoyed the most. Since it is quite a drive to go see my team play, I don’t go to many games. But if I do go, I always choose a game in November or December because the weather is usually colder.

            But the part about paying too much for sorry seats holds true in any weather.

        • The Brad says:

          Actually it just means that the home team has been performing poorly in their recent history. Once a team starts to play well and win more often, people will start to fill up the stadium.

        • cryptique says:

          “If a stadium is consistently jam packed, it probably means you’re in for an exciting time.”

          So how do you explain Wrigley Field?

        • Sian says:

          Or you’re just in a crappy market like Tampa that can’t fill seats no matter how good the team ins. (unless the Yankees or Sox are in town, but I’m tangenting into the wrong sport now)

    • Nidoking says:

      If I saw a sporting event on TV and found myself paying more attention to the audience than to the game, I’d change the channel anyway.

    • JJFIII says:

      Yeah, the NFL must be stupid. They only have the highest % of their tickets sold of any major sporting league. They also have the highest ratings on TV. The easiest comparison is baseball. I have not been to a baseball game since 1984, yet I still can watch every single game. What motivation is there for me to ever purchase a ticket.
      If every NFL game were broadcast locally without the blackout, tell me why any person would go to a Bills game in December or a Dolphins game in September.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        1). There are rabid fans who will always attend a game no matter what the cost
        2). There are fans who might go to the game or just watch it on TV
        3). There are fans who will only watch it on TV even if tickets only cost $5.00
        4). There are people who don’t care for sports

        Even if there were no blackouts, there would still be a large group of people who would go to the games. For groups 3 and 4, they won’t pay to see a game regardless of whether there is a blackout or not.

      • James Buffalkill says:

        “They only have the highest % of their tickets sold of any major sporting league.”

        How can you compare a sport that has eight home games (football) to 41 home games (basketball/hockey) and 81 (baseball).

      • alexwade says:


        There are 16 regular season NFL games. Fewer games means less chances to see the team play and also means each game is very important. MLB, NHL, and the NBA have far more games.

    • Jawaka says:

      I turn on a game that I’m interested and I never even notice how full the stadium is.

  2. DAS37 says:

    WSJ is using attendance to determine which teams are in danger of blackouts. However, the NFL goes by tickets sold. The Redskins have sold out all their games for decades and will not be in danger of blackouts even if 1 out of 6 people does not show up.

    • Marlin says:

      I was whondering how they came to that number as every Redskin game has been sold out for as long as I have been near them.

      Mind you getting to and from the Stadium sucks so that could have something to do with some not showing up.

      • TheMansfieldMauler says:

        Whether or not it’s sold out has little to do with how many tickets are bought by the general public. If the requisite number of tickets hasn’t been bought by the deadline, the team owner buys the rest. That way the game will be on TV regardless.

        • Back to waiting, but I did get a cute dragon ear cuff says:

          The Redskins have been sold out to the general public for years. There have been probate court cases fighting for the waiting list spot when the holder dies.

          Before the new stadium, there were reports that the waiting list was well over 20 years.

  3. StarKillerX says:

    Buffalo can pack it’s stadium, even in the worst weather, but to do so they have to occasionally win a few games, who wants to go sit in the cold, rain or snow to watch their local team get destroyed week after week?

    • CrazyEyed says:

      As a fan living in the Buffalo area, you are correct. Bills fans are some of the most die hard and still sell out a lot of games, even with poor records. However, late in the season, when the Bills are out of the playoffs, its hard to justify freezing your ass off for a crappy football product.

      Ralph Wilson Stadium was traditionally, one of the largest stadiums in the league despite housing a smaller market team. For the size of the city, the team sells out a lot despite not having a good product on the field the past decade. With exception to this year’s offseason moves which have changed the mood in this city, the only saving grace has been tailgating which continuously ranks better than most franchises.

  4. Phred says:

    The TV coverage has gotten so good, and the stadium experience so bad, that it’s no wonder that attendance is down.

  5. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    A classic example of utter stupidity.

    The way to build a fan base is to heighten the exposure and accessibility of your team. Blacking out TV is the polar opposite of that. Blackouts are guaranteed to decrease your fan base, and make everything worse.

    Whoever came up with this idea, and all the idiots that continue to go along with it, needs to be punched in the face.

    • Blueskylaw says:

      Bean counters came up with this idea.

      Hey, how can we make even more money than we do now? Let’s do a television blackout so that even less people can watch and get excited about the game. BRILLIANT!!!

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        …so negative beans are more valuable than positive beans?

        • Blueskylaw says:

          I like both negative and positive beans. When I mix them together I get a Neutron bean that kills people but leaves buildings standing.

          • YouDidWhatNow? says:

            …and it turns out the world isn’t actually a sphere – it’s shaped like a burrito!

            And we…WE are but beans in the great burrito of life!

    • JJFIII says:

      Are you stupid or not aware of the current situation? The NFL has ALWAYS had a policy that local games can not be shown UNLESS there is a total sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. I guess the NFL is a failure of a league. I mean being the most popular and profitable sport in the country is proof positive that they do not know what they are doing. I guess a moron like YOU should run the league. I am sure YOU could make them a success.

      • Blueskylaw says:

        If they are the most popular and profitable sport in the country, then why the fu*k do they need to ease up on local TV blackout rules? Shouldn’t they be having even more blackouts being so successful and all that? Answer that rabid fan.

      • YouDidWhatNow? says:

        The fact that I wrote the post that I did illustrates both that I am not stupid, and that I am aware of the current (and past) situation. You have added nothing to this discussion other than to illuminate your own morony. Also, what Blueskylaw just said. Grow a GD brain.

      • cantiloon says:

        Just because they’re successful and have always done it this way does not change the fact that the blackout rule sucks and screws local fans. I love that “because they are successful, every single thing they do is 100% right and anyone who questions that is an idiot” line of thinking, though. Classic. Did you so vehemently defend the league’s old overtime rule, which was beyond awful? The NFL realized it was a bad system, and (to use your all caps for emphasis) CHANGED it, just like they may be doing with this.

    • Phred says:

      The people who run the Indy 500 have always blacked it out locally (in Indy, even in the days when they sold the place out (and that’s a LOT of tickets). I’ve never understood it.

    • DAS37 says:

      Before 1973, every NFL game was subject to local home blackout whether or not it was sold out. Even postseason games. For example, people in the New York area could only see the 1958 championship game if they went to it. Nixon could not watch the Redskins on TV in the 1972 playoffs until the NFL agreed to exempt the Super Bowl. It took an act of Congress the next season to get them to change it so sellouts were exempted.

  6. Torchwood says:

    I thought that low attendance could be attributed to a team not playing well and/or people not having disposable income to afford to attend a NFL game.

    • cantiloon says:

      It can also be attributed to skyrocketing prices. I’m pretty sure every team uses Personal Seat Licenses (PSLs) now which is a fee of anywhere for a few hundred to a many thousands just to get the right to buy a tickets at a rapidly increasing face value. And if your favorite team should build a new stadium, then you can expect that your “new and improved” seats will cost you thousands more even though the local municipality likely passed a tax increase to build the new stadium.

  7. chiieddy says:

    I thought Jacksonville was the team with the most home blackouts…

  8. nopirates says:

    the NFL hasn’t had stadiums as small as 40,000 since the 60s

  9. Delicious Spam is delicious says:

    football should die.

  10. northwest says:

    Does anybody fully understand sports blackout rules? This might only be for non-NFL games, but I live a thousand miles from the teams I’d prefer to watch and yet the games are still blacked out if I subscribe to the sports packages that have those channels. For example, if I want to watch Yankees baseball in NY, I watch on the YES network. But if I subscribe to the YES network where I live (not in NY), they black out the games. This has happened on cable and satellite providers, making me think it’s not just the provider trying to get me to subscribe to their “every freaking game ever played package.” I can’t find anything in the blackout rules that seem to require this and would really like to know who to blame.

    • Demoliiton Man says:

      Yep in order to get the Yankees games on YES out of the NY viewing market you have to subscribe to the MLB Extra Innings package. They really need to give options to those who only want one team and they are out of the market of that team. I mean I’m fine with paying for MLS Direct Kick as I watch many games outside of my team (New England Revolution). But I can see it being frustrating when all you want is to watch your one team and that’s it.

  11. Cheuvront says:

    Are they going to call it the Rams Rule?

  12. MarkFL says:

    It’s not just ticket prices, it’s the actual cost of going to the game. Not only are the ticket prices going up, but then you get gouged for parking and refreshments. (If the weather is extreme, refreshments aren’t really optional.) Last time I went to a Dolphin game was in 2009 when they played the Jets (which meant it was a sure sellout with hordes of obnoxious Jets fans, but I expected that going in). We sat in the next to last row of the upper deck in the corner of the end zone, and it still cost us $90 each, plus, if I remember correctly, $20 for parking.

    Perhaps they can just rip out all of the remaining seats and have a luxury-box-only stadium. The boxes can all be bought by corporations (who will write them off as business expenses), along with Jimmy Buffet, Fergie, and the Estefans. Then the game will be sold out and the rest of us can watch on television.

    Actually, the other thing that bugged me during that Jet game was that throughout the game the Diamondvision kept showing Fergie dressed as a cheerleader and Emilio looking not at all unexcited, even when the Dolphins scored. I felt like I spent a day’s pay to see an exceptionally bad episode of Entertainment Tonight. This does not encourage me to go to another game, although we did enjoy giving back to the Jet fans when the Dolphins won in the last 10 seconds. :-)