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NFL Blackout Policy Suspended for 2015 Season

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NFL owners have decided to suspend the league's local television blackout policy for all regular season and preseason games and will review the impact after the season.

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NFL owners voted to suspend the league's television blackout rule for one year, applying to all regular season and preseason games, according to reports. Owners will review the impact once the season is over. There were no television blackouts in 2014 and only two in 2013; significantly less than the 15 television blackouts in 2012 and 16 the year before that.

Owners have convened in Arizona for annual meetings to vote on several key proposals.

The existing television blackout policy requires that teams sell all non-premium seats within 72 hours of the team's scheduled kickoff to lift a television blackout for all markets within a 75-mile radius from the home stadium. The league applied an 85 percent threshold rule two years ago, helping struggling teams to lift the blackout...

...but with a cost.

Every ticket sold after the 85 percent threshold lowered the ticket sales revenue to a 50/50 distribution. Cincinnati, facing a serious shortage in sales during the offseason last year, accepted the 85 percent threshold and still faced the public dilemma of falling shy of the threshold.

Cincinnati went through an 11-game stretch where 10 games were locally blacked out from the middle of 2010 and into 2011; they've since ended up selling out in all but two games in 2012 (against the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders) and every game since. They've sold out 19 straight games in the regular season and postseason since their last blackout against the Oakland Raiders in 2012.

The Cincinnati Bengals announced earlier this year that several areas at Paul Brown Stadium will undergo a significant ticket reduction for fans thinking about purchasing season tickets this year. There are some areas that are going for $35/game, as well as others that will see a $15 reduction, going from $75/game to $60. NOTE: Despite the presser saying that "most fans" won't see increases, there are changes in high demand areas.

"We have a good team coming back, one of only four to reach the playoffs the last four years, and we have an outstanding stadium that will be significantly upgraded," said Jeff Berding, Bengals Director of Sales and Public Affairs. "And we have set pricing with the goal of increasing our season ticket base. We believe the new $35 locations are an exceptional value that will sell quickly, and there are many other options also available, with great seating on all levels."

Last September, the FCC voted to remove local blackouts but didn't prevent the league from applying them (the vote basically said that the league can't demand blackouts by using FCC policy). Pressure from the Federal Communications Commission to end the policy may have helped lead to the blackout suspension as well -- the league enjoys an antitrust exemption which leads to serious money in television contracts.