SBD/Issue 244/Leagues & Governing Bodies

NFL TV Rights Holders Not Concerned About Potential Blackouts

Billick Feels NFL Needs To Hold
Hard Line On Blackout Policy
NFL TV rights holders said that they are "not concerned about potential blackouts of regular season games" this season, according to John Consoli of MEDIAWEEK. A network official said that in "order to take a significant revenue hit, a network would have to have about 14 home market games blacked out." Another network exec said, "The blackout rule is part of the package we are buying. It has always been there, and when we do our rights deal, we know it is something that could potentially affect us. That’s part of the deal." But Consoli noted while the nets "downplayed the chance of blackouts, every network, except possibly NBC, seems to have some problem sorts on their televised schedules." It is unclear whether the "lack of concern is wishful thinking on the part of the networks," or rather a "desire not to rile up the NFL by publicly criticizing the league's unwillingness to change the blackout policy" (MEDIAWEEK.com, 9/8). Fox NFL analyst Brian Billick said the league "has to hold a hard line with regard to the fans in the cities and getting seats in the stands," even if it "kind of makes sense to maybe change the sellout rule or change the timing or the numbers." Billick: "The number one driving force behind it is even for TV to show a game that is not sold out diminishes it a little bit" ("Monsters in the Morning," CSN Chicago, 9/8).

SHED SOME LIGHT: SI.com's Peter King wrote the NFL "shouldn't be so hardened about the blackout rule." The greater Detroit area currently has a 29% unemployment rate, and it is "unrealistic to expect that Detroit ... fill a 64,500-seat stadium regularly." King: "I wouldn't lift the blackout entirely this year, because once the genie's out of the bottle, it's going to be hard to get it back in. But I would say it would be a grand gesture for the league to give the truly deserving franchises a couple of games with home TV for non-sellouts" (SI.com, 9/7). In N.Y., Richard Sandomir wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should "lift those television blackouts -- and let the people of Detroit watch the Lions." In a city with a "wheezing automotive industry and a jobless rate near 30[%], people need diversions." Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue lifted the blackout rule in New Orleans in '05 following Hurricane Katrina, and Goodell similarly should "waive it now." Sandomir: "Why stick rigidly to a policy made for better times? Relax it this season and revisit it next year." If the league does not lift the policy, it should at least "stream the blacked-out games on nfl.com or let local stations replay the blacked-out games on Monday mornings" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/5). In Oakland, Monte Poole writes if "ever a time was right to suspend for at least a year the blackout rule ... it's when we're choking on horrible economic conditions." Poole: "Presented a grand opportunity to extend a goodwill gesture, to serve the community at minimum cost, the NFL shrugs and counts its cash" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 9/9).

Jaguars Owner Weaver Believes
Games Will Be Blacked Out
AN UPHILL CLIMB: In New Orleans, Jeff Duncan cited research from ESPN.com's K.C. Joyner that indicates that the Saints, playing in the NFL's second-smallest market and 16th-largest stadium, face the "greatest annual challenge to sell out their stadium." Yet the Saints have "managed to sell out 25 consecutive games" at the 69,703-seat Superdome, and "excluding the Katrina season, have sold out all but one game during the past decade" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/6). Meanwhile, Jaguars Owner Wayne Weaver Friday said that the "recession has hurt ticket sales to the point where officials think all home games will be blacked out." Weaver: "I want to be realistic -- we won't have a full stadium this year. We will not. This economy has just affected too many families." In Jacksonville, Kevin Turner noted the team has "come up with deals to help make tickets more affordable for fans." Weaver said that he remains "committed to the long term in Jacksonville, and he believes the Jaguars will build a tradition." He said, "Maybe it will take us another 10 or 15 years to get there, maybe longer, but one thing is for sure: we're going to get there" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 9/6).

FEELING THE PINCH: ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli noted despite its "preeminent status, the NFL has learned a difficult lesson from the current lagging economy: The league simply isn't recession-proof." It was once a "touchstone for companies to attach themselves to the NFL and its nonpareil brand name," but those companies are "revisiting the viability of those decisions." Several factors, including the current economy, have "combined to force the NFL, while still financially healthy, to market its product with greater gusto," because the league that "once sold itself now is finding that it is a much tougher sell." To the fans, it is "not enough anymore to simply stage the games," and the league now "talks increasingly about the 'Sunday experience'" (ESPN.com, 9/8).

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