SBD/July 2, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFL Relaxing Blackout Rule; Local Broadcasts Allowed With Just 85% Of Tix Sold

The NFL is “watering down its controversial TV ‘blackout’ rule, which restricts local broadcasts for games that aren't sellouts,” and this season, for the “first time, fans in the stadium will be able to watch the same instant replays the referees see during reviews of controversial calls,” according to a front-page piece by Kevin Clark of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. The league also is “planning to introduce wireless Internet in every stadium and to create smartphone apps that could let fans listen to players wearing microphones on the field.” Average game attendance is “down 4.5% since 2007, while broadcast and online viewership is soaring,” and the NFL is “worried that its couch-potato options -- both on television and on mobile devices -- have become good enough that many fans don't see the point of attending an actual game.” TV blackouts were “meant to encourage ticket sales, but the strict guidelines are now looking outdated.” Team owners have “passed a resolution that starting this season will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games even when as few as 85% of tickets are sold.” Under the new rule, each team has “more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85% or higher.” To discourage clubs “from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it.” Although the NFL “blames the economy, it also worries that the trend reflects a downside to its broadcasting success.”  Negotiations also are “under way for leaguewide wireless Internet inside stadiums,” and at least “four teams are likely to have wireless Internet in their stadiums this year.” The idea is that “bolstering cell reception and adding wireless will enable fans to re-create the living room in their stadium seats.” Meanwhile, the league said it has "liberalized" its restraints on crowd noise. Stadiums will now be “free to rile up crowds with video displays, and public-address announcers will no longer be restrained from inciting racket when the opposing offense faces a crucial third down” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 6/30).

FITTING THE BILL(S): Sports Fan Coalition Buffalo chapter Chair Matt Sabuda, who also serves as Buffalo Fan Alliance President, said that the new blackout rule is “important” because statistics show that the Bills are "just under that 85 percent capacity for average game attendance.” Sabuda: "I give the NFL a ton of credit for doing it so quickly. They listened to fans, they recognized it, and to change all in a period of less than a year is remarkable" (BUFFALO NEWS, 7/1). 
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