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Be Careful What You Root for on Blackouts

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 08: Jeremy Lin #17 o...

Jeremy Lin: Can He Solve TWC-MSG Dispute

Heaven help those who get what they want.

That phrase comes to mind when thinking about the Western New Yorkers  who want the FCC to end the policy that leads to blackouts of Bills games that aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance.

I sympathize with the handicapped and the elderly with health problems that can’t get to the Ralph to see the games. I also understand why fans believe all games should be televised because taxpayer money pays for stadium upgrades.

I just don’t know what to root for.

My heart says root for the blackouts to end. I could be dead wrong, but my head says not so fast.

Naturally, it is easy for politicians to climb aboard the anti-blackout movement led by the Buffalo Chapter of the Sports Fans Coalition. But sometimes quick rule changes can have long-term unintended consequences.

The NFL has said that only 16 games in the 2011 season were blacked out, with the small-market teams in Buffalo, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay having most of the blackouts.

It hasn’t been a problem in big markets, which have many more potential fans to fill the stadiums at much higher ticket prices. So a change in the rule probably wouldn’t hurt them. I fear it could hurt small market teams.

For argument’s sake, let’s say the FCC is moved by the stories of the handicapped and the infirm and changes the rules that prohibit cable and satellite systems from carrying games not on local TV affiliates, and the games land on TV regardless of whether they are sold out.

And let’s say the NFL is right that the blackout rule helps it fill stadiums and a change in the rule results in more empty seats in Buffalo, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay. After all, some former Bills ticket buyers might prefer waiting until late November and December to see what the weather is like before buying tickets to games then. And some season ticketholders might just decide to buy tickets for the games in early fall, when the weather is better.

If that would happen and ticket sales drop significantly in Buffalo and in other small markets, what do you think the owners of those teams might consider doing then?

Do I hear the words “move their teams?”

Any reduced attendance could cause team owners to say “I told you so,” blame the communities for lack of support and feel more entitled to put attendance clauses in their leases so they could eventually move somewhere where the games would be sold-out.

It certainly is a scenario that Bills fans should fear since they already have enough reasons to worry about losing a team owned by a man in his 90s who wants stadium improvements and who recently learned again that the money he gets for radio rights to Bills games probably can’t pay for one decent player.

The taxpayers who feel they are entitled to see the games on TV because of the public money that subsidizes stadium improvements should understand that taxpayer money goes to plenty of private businesses without the government telling them how to change the way they conduct their businesses.

The Bills do provide the area with entertainment, pay taxes, support other businesses and have highly-paid employees who add to the tax base.

This isn’t to say that I don’t understand why people want the blackouts to end. I just think small markets like Buffalo could eventually have more to lose than win if the rule changes.

It would be better if the league addresses this issue itself. After all, the NFL wants all the games to sell out and be televised because more viewers and higher ratings can lead to more TV money. It also realizes that the blacked-out games are carried by illegal websites so it has reason to solve this problem by itself rather than be forced to do it by the government.

While we’re on a sports blackout issue, one wonders if the Jeremy Linsanity going on with the New York Knicks will mean MSG and Time Warner Cable have a new reason to get together and end the dispute that also has kept Buffalo Sabres games off of local cable.

After all, as I’ve said several times this is a dispute that is more about NYC – where TWC has many more subscribers — than it is about Buffalo. The Sabres’ recent play has been nice for fans but it won’t make TWC officials in NYC budge from their negotiation stance.

However, Lin’s play in New York City has the Big Apple and the world abuzz and certainly should encourage the two sides to try and solve this mess and get the Knicks games in more NYC and WNY homes.

If Linsanity gets MSG and TWC to end their own insanity, then the Harvard grad will truly be a miracle worker.

And while we’re on the subject of TWC and sports, the announcement by the NFL Network that it is expanding its Thursday Night schedule to 13 games and that every team next year will have a prime time game won’t help most cable fans here see more football unless TWC makes a deal to carry the network.  The question is whether the extra games will put more pressure on TWC nationally to make a deal to carry The NFL Network.

If the Bills make the NFL Network schedule next season, at least the game will be televised here on one of the local network affiliates. Of course, right now that’s if it is sold out 72 hours in advance.



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11 responses to "Be Careful What You Root for on Blackouts"

  1. Dave says:

    I want to say, if memory serves me correctly, that even when teams were in Los Angeles, that their games were blacked out, as well. So it isn’t necessarily a product of small market.

    • alanp says:

      LA is an anomaly. True, the Rams and Raiders didn’t sell-out the Coliseum, an aging stadium with 95,000 seats that led to both teams asking for new stadiums that were never built. I covered a game in the Coliseum — it was actually the playoff game in which Bo Jackson broke his hip. After the game, I was escorted to my car by a security guard, as were all sportswriters at the time. If LA gets a team and builds a new modern stadium, fans will come.

      • There’s one other factor: the only reason that LA doesn’t have a team is an unfortunate coincidence of events that led to both leaving: Frontiere’s long-standing wish to move to St. Louis, and the earthquake of ’94. With the LA market to themselves, the Rams did fine. The Raiders also had a relatively good following, even with the Rams still hanging out in Anaheim and largely dwindling.

        They were in the process of updating the Coliseum at the time, but the earthquake led them to focus on other priorities, which prompted Al Davis to seek the move back to Oakland.

        With one team, LA supports football without any problems. It’s only with two that they started to have trouble. LA metro’s a crowded sports town (2 MLB teams, 2 NHL teams, 2 NBA teams, 2 MLS teams, plus college football) and stretching it across two NFL teams is a recipe for trouble.

  2. Doug says:

    And let’s say the NFL is right that the blackout rule helps it fill stadiums and a change in the rule results in more empty seats in Buffalo,
    I think that is a huge assumption. I think the Bills will still sell a decent amount of tickets without the threat of a blackout. There may be a small decrease in ticket sales, but its not the end of the world if they factor in how much ad revenue they will be making by showing a game on TV that would have been otherwise blacked out.

    • alanp says:

      Yes, it is a huge assumption. I’m just saying it is a risk worth considering. The Bills don’t need to sell a “decent” amount of tickets. They need to sell-out to compete at the low prices they charge compared to what teams around the league charge.

  3. David R says:

    I actually think lifting the blackout rule will help teams like the Bills sell tickets. Remember the three late-season home games this year? All were well known to be in danger of being blacked out well in advance, yet ticket sales barely budged as the games approached.
    These days, the bigger risk to sports teams is being out of sight and out of mind. Sabres attendance hasn’t suffered because all of their games are broadcast (TWC excluded). Baseball attendance has grown as televised games have increased. It’s great marketing.

    • alanp says:

      My point is that the presale will diminish if the blackout rule is rescinded and that will make sellouts next to impossible. The Bills need a lot of season tickets to get sold-out games. The Bills will never be out of sight since all the road games are televised. Hockey isn’t a comparable sport. Less seats and being there is better than watching TV. Baseball’s attendance gains have nothing to do with increased TV exposure.

  4. Gman says:

    The NFL doesn’t want a team in Buffalo, no matter how many games are sold out. The blackout rules changing also would have no effect. It’s all about corporate boxes and a new stadium; both scenarios that will never happen in the Buffalo market.

  5. Dave says:

    Tom Bauerle’s call screener is claiming that he scooped you on the Jeremy Lin point. He’s getting a verbal butt-kissing this morning from Bauerle saying he “called it” on Wednesday of last week.

    It was an old opinion by Wednesday. You called it here on Monday. And others followed suit.

    Bauerle’s getting a little narrow vision. He jumped late on the LeRoy stuff, and tried to make it sound like he was the only one covering it, or first to suggest “mass hysteria.” The News had been writing it for a week or more prior to Bauerle jumping in late.

    • alanp says:

      Thanks. I actually wrote it Sunday but didn’t post it until Monday because I was in NYC on Sunday. In a way, I wrote it in December when I said Sabre fans should root for Knicks. I just thought it would end because of interest in Carmelo, not Jeremy.

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