Though the NFL is relaxing their requirements that could prevent blackouts by reducing the threshold of tickets required to broadcast local games, three lawmakers (U.S Senators Sherrod Brown and Richard Blumenthal and Brian Higgins in Congress), whom have addressed the issue of blackouts in the past, raised concerns whether the league's updated blackout policy will actually work. In a letter written to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the Senators write:
"However we have serious concerns that the second part of this new policy, which requires teams to forgo a significant portion of revenue from tickets sold over the 85% threshold, dissuades teams from trying this new policy. This punitive policy creates undue tension between the twin goals of ensuring loyal fans can watch at home and endeavoring to sell as many tickets as possible above the threshold. For example, a team that routinely sells out its games early in the season but that might like to lift blackouts on its December games that are no sold out might consider adopting the policy but for the penalty it would incur on the tickets sold to the early games above the 85% threshold."
It's a fair point. Several months ago the NFL agreed to allow teams to set a threshold of tickets sold that would define a sell out. The maximum number is 85 percent. However any tickets sold above the threshold is evenly split between the visiting and home teams, which has become a deterrent for franchises to ignore the relaxed rules and keeping things status quo.
Teams like the Buffalo Bills, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars have already announced that they're not taking advantage of the new rule. And the Cincinnati Bengals, who are experiencing higher-than-expected ticket sales with two games nearly sold out (Steelers, Cowboys), aren't expected to reduce their ticket threshold either. Bills CEO Russ Brandon cited the loss of revenue as a primary reason for not reducing their capacity to determine a sell out.
“We are a volume-based franchise,” said Bills CEO Russ Brandon. “For us to be successful we have to keep our ticket prices low and sell a great number of tickets. At 73,000 strong, our fans create one of the best Home Field Advantages in the entire National Football League.”
The senators conclude:
"The value of the League was indisputably and substantially enhanced by televising games. Many of the nation's top economists have concluded that local television blackouts have little or no effect on ticket sales, and even found that local blackouts harm consumers without producing a significant financial benefit to teams. As an estimated 60% of the League's revenue is generated from game broadcasts, and only 20% from tickets sales, this new policy demonstrates that the League understands the changing realities of sports economics in the 21st century. We applaud the NFL's decision to address its decades old, anachronistic and anti-fan blackout policy; we only ask that it go a little further in making the policy one that teams are free to embrace."