Why the NFL's TV Blackout Rule Is Now Self-Defeating

NFL Fumbles on Blackouts: Sellout Rule Hurts Football in the HD Age This Sunday, another NFL game is getting blacked out on local TV because of sagging ticket sales -- which just proves that the NFL doesn't understand what it has done to its own product.

NFL games have become better to watch at home than in the stands, a reversal of the usual sports arrangement. The games are now more like a taping of Two and a Half Men, with the fans in the stands as little more than the studio audience.

For two decades, the NFL has worked hard to make its games the highest-fidelity televised sporting events in the world. It pioneered replays, close-up shots, and computerized enhancements (like those virtual on-field first-down lines). It jumped on the high-definition bandwagon early, and is now pushing into 3-D.

Watching Is Way Cheaper Than Attending

Meanwhile, Americans have been loading up on giant, flat-screen TVs with surround sound. Now, when you stay home to watch a game, you can lounge on your comfortable couch and experience the game in a better way than if you were in a hard plastic seat hundreds of feet from the field.

And, of course, watching from home costs nothing. But the average NFL ticket price is $76.47, which doesn't include the cost of parking or paying $15 for a beer.

Normally, the experience of seeing a sporting event in person balances the convenience of watching it from home, so fans retain a desire to get to the games, and they'll make that trade-off often enough to fill the stands. That's been the case for the NFL -- until now. With ticket prices going up while the home experience has improved dramatically, fans are deciding to stay on the couch.

TV Ratings Are Soaring

The result: Attendance is expected to fall as much as 2% this season, after dropping each of the past two seasons -- from 17.3 million in 2007 to 16.7 million last season. At the same time, the NFL's TV ratings are soaring -- up 15% last season over 2008.

But the NFL doesn't get it. It still thinks ticket sales are paramount, which is why it's holding on to what's quickly becoming a self-defeating blackout policy. If a game isn't sold out 72 hours before kickoff, the game won't be broadcast locally. This weekend, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers game against the Pittsburgh Steelers will be blacked out in Tampa. The Carolina Panthers, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and a few other teams are constantly on the edge of getting blacked out when they play at home.

But blackouts hurt the league's TV advertising income and harm its fan base by preventing fans from following their team live on TV. The NFL's revenues from TV and from ticket sales are about equal: $4 billion each. So the league has some choices to make.

Is football the world's best TV sport, or is it a live sport that's so good that every game should sell out? Turns out, it can't be both.

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The Green Bay Packers don't black out games and Lambeau Field is sold out for 28 years, so if you're 90, I hope you take good care of yourself in case you want a ticket. It's funny, the smallest venue in sports and the toughest ticket....and, the tickets are not cheap! PACKERS: AMERICA'S TEAM! - EAT YOUR HEARTS OUT, COWGIRLS.

November 29 2010 at 7:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

True that. I wrote an article on my blog titled "The Best Seat in the House." Staying home is not just easier and cheaper, it is actually better. http://briancarroccio.blogspot.com/2010/09/best-seat-in-house-literally.html

November 05 2010 at 1:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would love to go to a Charger game. I live in San Diego and my wife and I are big fans of the Chargers. Problem is is that my wife is bed ridden (possibly the rest of her life) from an injury so there is no way we could attend a game. Thank You NFL for taking away one joy she had on Sunday's. We refuse to watch any football that is not Charger football.I would encourage everyone not to watch any football that dosen't involve your team. NFL won't get any ratings from this household.

October 01 2010 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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September 28 2010 at 10:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The city of Buffalo didn't get the memo that the Bills are "constantly on the edge of getting blacked out when they play at home." They had near-record sales of season tickets the last two years and management will only need to buy up extra tickets toward the end of the season when our playoff-less destiny is sealed. Sorry Mr. Maney, but your research -- which probably dredged up reports of the season ender last year as "evidence" -- certainly is nothing short of insufficient. Admittedly, you may become right this year, but decidedly incorrect now.

September 27 2010 at 7:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Evidentially the words "SATURATION POINT" don't mean anything to the too wealthy professional sports mogals. Hockey already hit the wall once and is destined to do it again. MLB - the once "best value" in sports is now insanely overpriced and cannot sustain it's out-of-control inflation. $9 hot dogs, $250 field level seats, $20 parking, all are outrages and unsustainable. NBA - not only overpriced, it is uninteresting, and is a meer shadow of the gane Dr. Neismith created. The NFL has now priced itself right out of reach and continus down the path of pay-for-view even though the number of blackouts is gowing larger every year. Where was it announced that the American consumer is making MORE money? How could anyone even fathom that they can double the cost of their tickets, drinks, food, parking, luxury suites, player compensation, and stadium costs every 2-3 years and not impact the attendence??!! Bulletin to sports owners - PEOPLE ARE MAKING LESS, PEOPLE CANNOT OVERSPEND FOR UNNECESSARY ITEMS LIKE $200 TEAM SHIRTS! The direction of ridiculious costs for sporting events has raced gigantically forward at exactly the same time when individual income, and individual wealth has gone backward. Are any of you too rich, too fat sports mogasl bastards even aware of all this? Are any of you listening!!?? I've STOPPED going to games - I CAN'T AFFORD THEM. I will NOT buy pay-for-view sports of any description. I will NOT subscribe to the NFL package, the NFL network, the various MLB packages, I WILL BUY GROCERIES, CLOTHING,and pay my ELECTRIC BILL INSTEAD. If I run out of money doing that - I'LL cancel CABLE - also a runaway cost with no end in sight. So thank you sports mogals for taking away something that once belonged to all of us, and pricing it right out of reach.

September 27 2010 at 1:26 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

we will have to start paying for college games next

September 27 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Here's one for ya...We live in Wyoming. Our two closest teams are Denver at a 10 hour drive, and Seattle at 12 hours. We bought the Sunday Ticket on Directv so we could watch all the games. BOTH Denver and Seattle are blacked out here! How frustrating to PAY for the Sunday Ticket and not be able to watch what we paid for!

September 27 2010 at 11:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article is an opinion by the author. It is not news!

September 27 2010 at 11:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How upset are the Tampa people, who saved $$$, and did not go to the beating the Steelers put on their team??? Sorry, but to me, that is just one bunch of SMART people. Or the Giant fans who left at the start of the 4th quarter? Or the Bills fan in December when the team is 5 games behind the division leader? Or Detroit, or Cleveland, or San Francisco, or St. Louis, man half the teams are just plain TERRIBLE. It costs way to much to spend your cash on terrible.

September 27 2010 at 11:01 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply