When the Cincinnati Bengals were struggling to sell tickets last season, thus preventing locals from watching the games on television, United States Senator Sherrod Brown urged the Federal Communications Commissions to force the NFL to end their blackout policy. "I'm urging the FCC to take a fresh look at the Sports Blackout Rule and allow fans to watch their home team play on television," Brown said last November. "The taxpayers who built many of these stadiums should have broadcast access to them." Brown is indirectly (or directly from one's perspective) referencing Hamilton County residents who directly paid for the stadium out of their own pockets. Yet for one reason or another (pissed off at ownership for not holding up their end of the deal by failing to field a consistent winner or economic woes impacting people brutally hard), the playoff-bound Bengals failed to sell out six of their home games.
A month later Brown re-ignited his campaign against the league's blackout policies, directly referencing taxpayers in Cincinnati and Hamilton County. "The NFL is poised to earn record profits while the Cincinnati taxpayers who built the stadium will be watching reruns rather than touchdown runs," Brown said in December. The attack was strong enough that it warranted a response from NFL Spokesman Brian McCarthy:
The blackout policy is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets; keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds; and ensuring that we can continue to keep our games on free TV. Playing in full stadiums with thousands of fans is an important part of what makes NFL football an exciting and special entertainment event, both live and on television. We have a limited number of games and do not want to erode the incentive to buy tickets. Every market receives more than 100 NFL games on free TV every year, regardless of the blackout policy.
In January the FCC announced that it will look into the league's blackout policy, with Christmas-morning enthusiasm from Senator Brown.
"We are one step closer to ending the blackout rule," Brown said in a news release. "Today, the FCC announced that it would begin taking public comment on the blackout rule, an outdated rule which is unfair to the teams, the fans, and especially the taxpayers. Although the Bengals season ended last week, I’ll keep fighting to repeal the blackout rule."
Fight the good fight, Senator.
Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and Frank Lautenburg of New Jersey joined Senator Brown in writing a letter to the FCC in February that read:
"These blackouts are ruining the experience of rooting for the home team and are unjustly hurting fans," the senators wrote. "That many of these stadiums were constructed or remodeled using taxpayer dollars underscores the disservice done to fans by blackouts."
Though we don't think that urging the FCC or the public comments encouraged the league in one direction or another, the result was essentially the same. Earlier this month the NFL announced that it was finally relaxing their blackout policy, allowing teams to set a benchmark that would lift the black out locally, provided it's more than 85 percent of capacity. If Cincinnati uses the maximum-allowed 85 percent, then it would reduce nearly 10,000 seats against capacity. However the question is, will they? For each ticket sold over the benchmark that teams set before the first preseason game, the home team has to share more of the ticket revenue with the visiting club.
Senator Brown, along with Senators Blumethal and Representative Brian Higgins (D-NY), released a statement posted by The Hill, applauding the league's decision:
Brown said in a statement that the decision ensured "that all [Cincinnati] Bengals fans can root for the home team — not just those who can afford tickets." The Ohio senator has previously said that the recovering economy and high unemployment rate has caused more fans to stay home than go to games.
Blumenthal called the new policy "a step in the right direction."
"Fans should be able to root for and watch their favorite teams even when they cannot attend in person," the Connecticut Democrat said in a statement.
Again. We don't think that Brown's efforts directly resulted in the league's eventual decision to "water down" their blackout policy -- that came with forecasting eventual economic trends that threatened their bottom line, evident by lowering ticket prices and planned enhancements for the stadium experience. However you have to admit it's nice that a politician, without caring for the party affiliation, stood up for those that needed it the most. We know. Watching football on television is a recreation, a trivial matter in the grand schemes; not something a public official should spend time dealing with. However sometimes this is exactly what people need, a break from personal struggles in life to watch a damned game on television. And if it takes a Senator from Ohio to lead that fight, then by all means, fight onward.