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A Win-Win Blackout Proposal for Bills and Local TV


The NFL owners’ decision to allow games to be televised if ticket sales are 85 percent of non-premium seat capacity of stadiums may initially have been looked at as a victory for fans in small-market cities like Buffalo.

Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills passing ...

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Buffalo TV Star

But after further review, it also can be viewed as a victory for big market teams, which are putting all the pressure on the Buffalos, Jacksonvilles, and Tampa Bays of the world.

Most of the big market teams will hit the 85 percent capacity mark before a snap in September through season ticket sales and others can probably attain it more easily than the small market teams.

The big market teams have just eased the pressure on themselves and given it to small market teams like Buffalo and Jacksonville, which have to decide whether to accept the option or be ready to accept a big chorus of boos from their fans.

They increased the pressure on the Bills by punishing them if they use the 85 percent rule by forcing them to give visiting teams more money.

Back in January, I was wrong about a lot of things concerning the push to end the blackouts after the FCC announced it was reconsidering the policy.

 I thought the Bills would be good before the NFL would be forced to end the blackout rule. In a way, that wasn’t totally wrong. The league isn’t being forced, it reacted to the pressure it was receiving by volunteering to solve the problem and essentially telling the FCC and Congress to stay out of it.

Smart move that.

Back in January, I also was right about a few things. Here are a few paragraphs that I wrote back then.

“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.”

As I suggested, it is doing something voluntarily.

According to a comprehensive story in today’s Buffalo News by Gene Warner that corrected some misconceptions about how many tickets must be sold, the Bills have a tough decision to make on whether to embrace the 85 percent rule because it could cost the team hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As we wait for the Bills decision, I have a modest proposal involving television. If the games are televised with only 85 percent of the non-premium tickets sold, the biggest winner would be the local TV stations that carry them.

Channel 4, which is affiliated with CBS, carries most Bills home games. Channel 29, which is affiliated with Fox, usually carries two a year. The games usually get ratings ranging from the high 20s to high 30s, which gives the stations a chance to gain $100,000-$150,000 or more a game in advertising if the blacked out games are carried.

The stations aren’t exactly throwing around money these days – witness what Channel 4 has done to its news staff — like Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws around footballs on Sundays.

But if I were the Bills, I would investigate sharing the potential losses from the 85 Percent Rule with the TV stations. Even if the stations gave the Bills $60,000 to $70,000 a game, they would still make a good buck.

The stations and the Bills would be doing a community service.It would be a win-win that everyone could cheer.


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2 responses to "A Win-Win Blackout Proposal for Bills and Local TV"

  1. Matt Sabuda says:

    Well reasoned piece Alan. The only caveat I would add is in the high stakes game that is retaining our NFL team, I firmly believe that this rule will reinforce the importance of Buffalo to the NFL. Under the old rule, there were an unknown number of fan purchased sellouts in markets where the owners or local affiliates purchased unsold tickets. Under this new rule, I suspect we’ll see a number of teams opt in that fell into the owner/affiliate sellout category in years past. It’s not just pressure on small markets. It’ll be very interesting to see real ticket sales above 85% in a large market like Miami. Buffalo has almost always represented fan driven ticket sales. We’ll see if other markets who opt in will be able to say the same.

  2. Art says:

    Ive watched some of the blacked out games on the net – The quality is just awful. In the age of HD, going back to such poor quality is torture.

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