NFL Play Hard Ball on Blackout Policy

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The global recession is biting hardest in the manufacturing heartland of the USA, with unemployment in Detroit running at 28.9% (according to figures in the Michigan Messenger). So Lions fans could be excused if they were to shy away from stumping up for sky-high NFL ticket prices to watch a team who trundled to a winless 0-16 season in 2008.

Yet if those financially-challenged fans do stay home, and Ford Field isn’t sold out 72 hours before game time, local TV coverage will be blacked out. No Lions football. Period. No remission.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was adamant on that point in a recent statement, saying:

“As you know, that blackout policy has been in place for several decades. It’s been very good for the game, for the fans, for the teams.

“We continue to do what we can, knowing what our fans are going through in this environment, to help teams better address the issues fans are facing.

“As an example, we’ve modified our comp ticket policy to a large extent in the offseason. We’ve allowed them to bundle other tickets in ways that will make it easier.

“But our teams have taken a very proactive position here. Twenty-four of 32 did not increase ticket prices going into the season. They have worked very hard with their fans to make sure they are as accommodating as possible to get there.”

The NFL currently projects 80% of blackouts will be lifted, significantly more than the 59% that were lifted during the 1990 when a similar if less severe financial crisis occurred.

Goodell cites that the ‘sell out’ criteria includes only non-premium seats, excluding suites and ‘club’ seating areas.

Peas that this downturn is significantly worse than in the 1990s have gained little credence with the NFL, which feels it is in a strong position. So with clubs already experiencing a downturn in season ticket sales, some creative marketing may be needed. Who knows maybe we’ll see clubs re-grading seats to be ‘club’ seats to reduce their blackout-lifting capacity.

Either way it looks like there’s no bending the commissioner’s viewpoint. And some clubs (Washington Redskins) have taken an even tougher line, taking defaulters on long term ticket contracts to court, an approach Goodell stopped short of endorsing:

“Those are decisions that every club is going to have to make. It’s not unique to the Redskins. There are other teams that have done that to enforce their contracts. Most of the time, if not every time, it’s done with a person who has a long-term contract for a suite or a club seat. I don’t think it happens often, if it all, with GA seats because they are not under long-term contracts.

So. No sympathy there. Just easier ways to pay.

Ah well. That’s why they call us fanatics.