With two hours (as of this posting) to go before the deadline (which is 72 hours before kickoff), the Cincinnati Bengals are unlikely to sellout their season opener in time to avoid a television blackout, which affects anyone within a "75-mile radius of Paul Brown Stadium". There's still a chance that the league will grant a 24-hour extension, provided the team gets closer to their sellout by Thursday at 1 PM. Joe Reedy does a good breakdown of what blackouts mean, and offers suggestions to catch the game, ranging from a hike to Columbus or Louisville.
This discussion was presented on this site after we learned yesterday, the Bengals were around 5,000 tickets from selling out. If you want to go to the game, but don't want to spend the money, Hoxworth Blood Center is offering to put your name in a drawing to win a "pair of suite tickets to the Cincinnati Bengals season opener Sunday" if you donate blood. Almost seems like an odd reference to True Blood.
Roger Goodell has no intention on entertaining the notion of lifting blackouts saying, "And (aside from Jacksonville) we’ll have other markets that’ll have those challenges. It’s all part of the challenges that we’re seeing in the economy, and what our clubs are going through. Our clubs have been working hard in the offseason to create other ways to try to get people in the stadiums and to have policies that are a little more flexible, and hopefully they’re going to pay dividends for us."
He point blank said: "The blackout policy is a longstanding policy in the NFL. It has served us well. It has served the public well, and I do not anticipate any changes with our blackout policy.''
CBS Sports' Gregg Doyel, a Cincinnati guy, writes that while NFL fans have been incredibly loyal, helping the league blossom to what it is today, it's time for the NFL to repay the fans by suspending the blackout policy for a year.
And (fans) have supported their teams for years, supported them to the extent that new stadiums are popping up all over the country, including that $1.2 billion monstrosity in Dallas. Salaries are astronomical, and why is that? Because people like you have bought tickets, or jerseys, or whatever else you've bought to support your NFL team.
Now it's the NFL's turn to support you, and not just for one weekend, though that would be a start. Eliminating the blackout rule for the first weekend of the season would be an enormous statement that the NFL understands and appreciates its place in the American fabric. One week would be fabulous, but one full season would be appropriate.
Pete Prisco agrees, writing back in May that "I understand why the blackout rules are there, and I do believe in them, but for this one season it wouldn't hurt to amend them some."
Jay Mariotti, someone that I really don't care for, wrote that the league is just being greedy:
Through 2011, the NFL will be paid a combined $11.6 billion by CBS, NBC and FOX for television rights fees. Through 2013, the league will be paid an additional $8.8 billion by ESPN. That's $20.4 billion coming in, a staggering figure reflective of how pro football reigns supreme in American sports.
Mariotti takes the same position as Doyel, writing:
This would be a perfect time to lift the blackout rule, if only temporarily, as a way of thanking the customers for making the NFL a monumentally thriving enterprise. By televising all home games, no matter how many seats are empty, Goodell not only would extend a goodwill gesture but foster civic unity in tough times when folks need pride and entertainment.
President of the Jacksonville City Council, in a city that could see the entire season blacked out, says that "my worry is that if the NFL doesn't look at changing the rule, we're losing a fan base. I would like to think they would really, really look at those communities which are hardest hit, and have an honest discussion about it, as opposed to saying this is the way we've always done things."
Time writer Sean Gregory points out that while teams are hard pressed to sell their games out, they're not exactly helping themselves, or the fans.
As much as some local officials may gripe about it, teams aren't necessarily helping either. Some facing the prospect of blackouts haven't even lowered ticket price to entice fans. In Jacksonville, for example, the average general admission ticket costs $57.34, a 3.7% increase from 2008, according to the publication Team Marketing Report. The average premium seats now costs $229.17, a 15% increase year-over-year. And local network affiliates aren't necessarily upset that they have to sometimes air a different game, since more competitive teams playing can often actually translate to better ratings.
The New York Times' Richard Sandomir writes that Detroit, a city that's experiencing nearly a 30% unemployment rate, is a good example (more like an apples and oranges comparison) of the recession affecting so many people. So why not lift the ban for a year. Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Sandomir reminds, lifted the blackouts in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina wrecked the city. Granted, a destructive Hurricane is hardly the appropriate comparison, but Sandomir quantifies his point:
The economy, even in a slow recovery, did not physically devastate cities the way Katrina did. But it has devastated millions of lives through widespread layoffs, foreclosures and bankruptcies. In reducing, or eliminating, people’s disposable income, the recession has slowed the sale of season tickets.
How are the networks, who could see a drop in ratings and viewership handling this? The networks (CBS, ESPN, NBC, Fox and the NFL Network) are otherwise unconcerned.
So, do you stand with wide-spread support that the league should consider lifting the blackout policy for a year? Or do you argue that no matter how wrecked things are, rules are rules and should be applied no matter what. There is also that last resort. You could go to the stadium and buy a ticket. However, if you do that, be prepared to be labeled by some as enablers. No matter what you decide, it sucks all around.