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Bills Could Be Good Before Blackout Rule Change

English: John King, journalist for CNN

CNN's John King

This is what I’m thinking:

I hope Buffalo Bills fans didn’t get their hopes up reading the front page story in Saturday’s Buffalo News with the headline of “Blackout Rules for NFL Games Studied by FCC.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for NFL blackouts to end. These kinds of political issues generally take years to resolve and even longer if there is a change in the presidency and another one involving who heads the FCC. The Bills might even be decent again and selling out every home game by the time anything regarding the blackout rules changes.

It was another case of a politician – in this case Congressman Brian Higgins –  getting some good publicity for something that he is unlikely to have much influence on. I mean what politician wouldn’t want to be on the side of sports fans who are tired of sports blackouts?

This is the sort of free publicity grab that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made when he announced he would try to get Time Warner Cable and MSG officials to meet again to resolve the dispute which has mercifully kept Buffalo Sabre games off of local cable.

Did anything happen? Nah.

The News story on the blackout issue (which made the front page even though it ran a week after it had been reported elsewhere) noted that sports fans “may get a reprieve” from blackouts now that a “longtime federal policy that prevents satellite and cable broadcasters from airing games that are not sold out” is being reconsidered by the FCC.

NFL blackout rules prevent games from being carried on local broadcast affiliates if they aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance. Under NFL rules, Channel 4 can’t carry CBS broadcasts of Bills home games if they aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance and Channel 29 can’t carry Fox broadcasts of Bills home games that aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance. (Sometimes, the rule is relaxed to 24 or 48 hours.)

The FCC blackout rule prohibits cable and satellite carriers from carrying the same game that local broadcasters can’t carry. That’s why Bills fans can’t get non-sold out home games on DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket, which carries every NFL game not subject to league blackout rules..

FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell reportedly wants to take a fresh look at the rule “in light of marketplace changes.” He added that television and merchandising revenues now exceed ticket sales. Earth to McDowell. It has been that way for decades. The Bills TV millions far exceed the money they get from ticket sales. My best estimate is that TV revenue is at least two times as much as Bills ticket sale revenue. The TV money enables small market teams like Buffalo to survive.

The FCC’s plan to revisit the rule led Higgins to send a letter to the FCC noting that Bills fans are harmed more by the blackout rule because Ralph Wilson Stadium has a capacity that is 6,000 more than the average league attendance and that makes sellouts harder.

“Last year almost half of Bills home games were blacked out,” Higgins reportedly said on the House floor. “That is unacceptable.”

With all due respect, the capacity of The Ralph isn’t the problem. It actually helps the small market team stay here. The Bills used to sell out when they had 80,000 seats. All the losses in recent non-playoff years, the Buffalo weather and a 2011 schedule loaded with December games were the problem.

I can almost hear the counter-arguments from the Bills about why the NFL blackout rule is necessary.  The team’s ticket costs are among the lowest in the league, which should make it easier to sell-out the games. I pay $80 a ticket to sit on the 50-yard line. A buddy of mine has New York Giants season tickets in the same place for triple that amount and he also has to pay a seat license fee.

Additionally, the Bills (and other cold weather cities with lousy teams) probably will argue that if the NFL blackout rule is dropped that ticket sales for any games in November and December will plummet, and the league doesn’t want to become a studio sport that plays games before empty stadiums. I mean why pay for a ticket for a game in the rain or the snow if you know every game is going to be on TV?

I’m not saying that the FCC shouldn’t revisit the rule. The NFL knows its own rule isn’t enforceable anymore because of internet thief. Several long-suffering friends of mine have told me that they’ve been able to go on internet sites to watch Bills blacked-out games (as well as Sabres games during the TWC-MSG mess).

So it wouldn’t be surprising if the NFL eventually does something about the piracy and relaxes its blackout rule even if the FCC takes years to decide to do nothing. I can see the NFL eventually allowing blackout-out games to be carried on cable or satellite for a price say of $20 to $40 a household.

The News story also suggests that the NFL will be joined by other leagues in opposing any changes to the blackout rule. However, the NHL and the NBA generally don’t blackout home games that don’t sell-out. As every baseball fan in Buffalo knows, major league baseball blackout rules are so confusing that somehow Cleveland and Pittsburgh are considered home markets in Buffalo and their games are often blacked out on ESPN. Now that’s ludicrous.

CNN’s John King has taken plenty of heat for starting the South Carolina Republican debate by asking Newt Gingrich about one of his ex-wife’s salacious claims in an interview with ABC News. Gingrich used the timing of the question to attack the well-respected King and the media, which is something that Republicans do best.

Should King have waited a little to ask a question that deserved to be asked? Probably. One of the elementary rules of interviewing is to wait for an appropriate time to ask the tough questions. Having said that, Gingrich owes King (and Gingrich’s ex-wife) a thank you. His response helped him win the South Carolina primary a few days later.

Finally, CNN’s Susan Candiotti initially reported on the death of Penn State’s legendary football Coach Joe Paterno Sunday morning without referencing the sex abuse scandal involving one of his former assistants, Jerry Sandusky, that led to Paterno’s firing. Howard Kurtz, the host of the CNN media show “Reliable Sources,” appeared surprised by that omission. He immediately asked Candiotti what prominence that sad chapter would have on Paterno’s obituaries and eulogies. By the way, Candiotti was a Channel 2 reporter once upon a time.




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5 responses to "Bills Could Be Good Before Blackout Rule Change"

  1. Gman says:

    First, I’d like to thank TWC & MSG for “blacking out” the Sabres from my programming. That truly is ” must skip” television. Now I can catch up on all the stuff on our DVR. My take on the NFL blackouts is that when I had Directv and purchased the NFL Sunday Ticket, there should be no blackouts on the local game,since we’re paying a premium for the games. Their were times when the blacked out game still was on my TV. I guess someone was asleep at the switch. Lastly, how ‘ bout that Lee Evans. The chance to make the greatest catch of his career , and he fails to follow through and hold tight to the ball. At least Ronnie Harmon didn’t drop a ball that was thrown in his breadbasket. Nice job, Lee.

  2. Bob says:

    It is great that Higgins threw his hat into the ring – but this is far from his idea – and I support his, um, support. This was brought about 2 months ago by others, and Higgins is saying – “shoot why not help”

  3. Warren says:

    I doubt the NFL will offer a paid service to Cable providers, to bypass the blackout games there is a lot of money in broadcast rights to the games and the broadcasters have some protection in those contracts and access to live games by cable providers is not part of the deal. However I can see in the future the NFL perhaps allowing the broadcaster holding the broadcast rights to the games, streaming those games live, the NFL is already doing that. NBC has been streaming live the Sunday night game for a couple years and will be streaming the Super Bowl live. Plus the NFL has been offering live streaming games, to users outside the U.S for a couples years (the broadcast contract restricts the NFL from streaming live games in the U.S). The NFL also offers GameRewind, for a reasonable price, but during the regular season none of the Sunday games are available, until after the Sunday night game and no games are available during the Monday night game, but since the games are not live, the blackout rule does not apply.

  4. Doug says:

    The blackout rule will be changed, just as soon as the Bills move to LA.

    As far as watching the sabres online, I can barely watch them when the signal on my big screen tv is NOT in HD – Watching such poor quality on a computer screen is simply unbearable.

  5. Good? More like good as gone. St. Louis Bisons, here we come.

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