SBD/Issue 241/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFL To Study Adjusting Blackout Policy, But Change Not Likely

Goren Expects NFL To
Tweak Blackout Rules
The NFL "will study to see if they need to make any adjustments" to the current blackout policy with as many as 12 teams facing at least one home non-sellout this season, according to ESPN’s John Clayton. Blacking out games is “not going to be popular,” but the “most important thing they want in the NFL is to fill the seats.” If the league can “find a way to make some accommodations, then they may try to do it.” However, the likely scenario will be more blackouts “than there's been in recent years" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 9/1). Fox Sports President Ed Goren yesterday said that he "expected the league to make at least a minor change in its blackout rules, perhaps helping one team fill a stadium for one week during the season by donating a certain number of tickets to charity." But when asked about Goren's comments, NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy in an e-mail said, "There is no discussion concerning changing the blackout policy." CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus said Goodell "is not a believer in making an adjustment to a rule just because there's a short-term problem." McManus: "He believes long term that the blackout rule is good for the NFL and good for its partners and (he) probably isn't going to make any major adjustments this year" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 9/2).

PART OF CHALLENGE LEAGUE FACES: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday indicated that the problems faced by the Jaguars, who may have all of their home games blacked out this season, "highlight the challenges the entire league faces." Goodell: “I think it reflects two things, what you're seeing in Jacksonville. One is the quality of preseason games. ... Additionally, they are one of the markets where we're seeing some challenges for ticket sales coming into the 2009 season. And we'll have other markets where we'll have those challenges. It's all part of the challenges we're seeing in the economy and what our fans are going through" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/2). ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said of fans in Jacksonville: “To tell those fans, ‘You know what? Because you can’t afford to buy tickets to those games, we’re not going to put them on television,’ I think there will be people who will resent that” (“Mike & Mike in the Morning,” ESPN2, 9/2).

LEAGUE SHOULD MAKE EXCEPTION: ESPN’s Michael Wilbon said of the blackout policy, “There's an exception to all rules, and this year ought to be that year.” Wilbon: “All these leagues say we want to work with our customers. We want to work with our fans. We want to work with the community. Lift the blackout. That's how you can work with the community" (“PTI,” ESPN, 9/1). Greenberg said, “Here’s a little unsolicited advice. … In a down economy, don’t punish fans because they can’t afford to buy tickets to a game.” ESPN’s Mike Golic: “It would behoove the NFL to find a way to not have games be blacked out” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN2, 9/2). FanHouse.com’s Jay Mariotti: “The NFL is making a mistake in not waiving its blackout rule for the upcoming season. … All you're doing by blacking-out games is cheating fans in those towns. The NFL is still rolling in money" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 9/1). ESPN’s Michelle Beadle: “It would be a nice move on the NFL's part. Say what you want about the economy, but a lot of people are affected. It is expensive to go to an NFL game.” But ESPN’s Colin Cowherd said, “Using the economy is a lame excuse. … The economy's not great in Buffalo. They sell out their games in a huge stadium. It's not great in Pittsburgh. They sell out their games” (“SportsNation,” ESPN2, 9/1).

NOT EXPECTED TO HURT RATINGS: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir reports CBS and Fox both said that they "did not expect the blackouts to significantly affect ratings or cause them to provide givebacks to advertisers." Goren in an e-mail said, "Very simply, it's about the overall ratings. A few blackouts may not have any real effect on our full-season ratings." CBS Sports Senior VP/Communications LeslieAnne Wade said blackouts will not occur "in every market, so we don't expect blackouts to affect the rating we're selling for national advertising" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/2).

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