The NFL got off to a spectacular start in week one with thrilling finishes in several games. Surely you saw some of them. What has people talking this morning is the play at the end of the Bears-Lions game where Lions’ receiver Calvin Johnson had a touchdown catch taken away after not holding on to the ball throughout the entire “process of the catch.”
But there are storylines building out there that could drown out any “on the field” stories that may build over the course of the season. Unfortunately, I’m talking about that “B” word that neither the league nor the teams even likes to mention. I’m talking about blackouts.
You may recall that The Sports Debates had a debate on the NFL blackout policy last September. Having a game “blacked out” locally means a game cannot be televised locally if the game isn’t sold out. It’s an NFL policy that’s been in place for thirty-seven years, and one that I don’t agree with at all. But they didn’t ask me. It ended being a real problem last season as 22 games were blacked out in local markets. The blackouts came courtesy of five teams (Jaguars, Lions, Chiefs, Raiders, and Rams), including a disturbing seven blackouts in Jacksonville. This season, blackouts are possible in those cities and also in markets featuring three 2009 playoff teams (Arizona, Cincinnati, and San Diego). It will be a miracle to have fewer blackouts this season that last.
Yesterday, the home opener – yes, THE HOME OPENER – at Tampa was blacked out because the game wasn’t sold out. It really wasn’t close to sold out as only 41,554 walked through the turnstiles at Raymond James Stadium. It’s never a good thing when that’s the attendance at the first game. What’s the attendance going to be like when the Bucs host the Detroit Lions on December 19th? If there was ever a regular season game flagged for a blackout, that would have to be it.
Blackouts are such an issue that even a United States Senator is voicing his opinion. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown recently wrote a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, asking for a change in the NFL’s blackout policy. He fights the good fights for his Ohio constituents, saying that “is deeply troubling that increasing blackouts could deprive families and friends the tradition of watching their beloved Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoons.”
As the season goes on and blackouts continue, fans are the ones that will continue to lose. Many of you may not live in a “local” market, so the blackout rules don’t apply to you. But to those of you that do live in the local market of your team, you obviously have a huge interest in how ticket sales go. If you live just outside of Kansas City, there’s a good chance you won’t be watching the Chiefs host the 49ers in week three because the game could be blacked out locally. It’s an ongoing problem the league is facing. And I don’t see it going away.