The Bengals declared that Sunday's game against Baltimore was officially a sellout with less than two hours to spare before hitting a 72-hour deadline that would prevent the game from being aired locally. Even though the Bengals extended a sellout streak to 54 games (playoff and regular season games), the franchise began struggling to sell their games out last season. The NFL granted five 24-hour extensions last year that corporate sponsors and some Bengals players had to contribute in order to prevent a blackout.
The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders weren't so fortunate. The Chargers week two matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars fell 7,000 tickets short, making their home opener a blackout on television. The Raiders were unable to sellout their home opener against the St. Louis Rams, not even electing to request for an extension.
This all comes when the NFL experienced a five-year high of 22 games being blacked out last year. There's many reasons for a team unable to sellout; bad product, convenience of watching a game at home on an HDTV, the RedZone channel.
More importantly, the economy, which breeds personal financial concerns, has many families more concerned about their bills; not spending for a ticket, concessions and parking for a football game.
Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown wrote a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell before the season opener last weekend asking the league to reconsider their blackout policy. The letter readers in part:
Beginning this week, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals will play their first game of the 2010 NFL regular season. While fans cannot wait for the start of the season, I am concerned that supporters spanning Ohio's small towns and urban cities will be deprived of the chance to watch the Browns and Bengals compete on television. The NFL blackout policies -- which require home game to be blacked out in local television markets if it is not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff -- could deny Ohioans the opportunity to watch these games.
While I understand the need for the league to sell tickets and maintain an attractive television product, NFL blackout policies should be revisited as our nation faces the worst economic crisis in generations. During these difficult times, working families are struggling to make ends meet. Although appealing, attending a football game is simply cost prohibitive for too many Ohioans. The average price for an NFL game ticket is $77 -- nearly ten times the hourly minimum wage. The problem will only become worse, as 18 teams have increased ticket prices for the upcoming 2010 season.
It's hard to debate Senator Brown's point of view, arguing that the league should at least be a somewhat aware of the fans' plight; the same fans that helped make the NFL the most popular professional sport in the United States. True, a blackout policy has been in the league since 1973. True, we're living in a time that it's possible to see every game. But really, those excuses are outdated.
As popular as the game is today and the amount of revenue it generates, I find it very hard to believe that the league would suffer if they revised their current blackout policy to allow home games to be shown locally, even without a blackout.
At some point, the league should reward the same fans that's given players, owners and NFL officials such successful livelihoods. And this would be a great start.