SBD/January 3, 2014/Franchises

Packers Avoid Blackout With Help From Sponsors; Colts Also Announce Sell Out

Lambeau Field's capacity was increased by 7,000 seats to 80,750 this past year
The Packers Friday announced several corporate sponsors, led by Green Bay-based Associated Bank, bought the remaining available tickets for Sunday's Wild Card game against the 49ers, avoiding a local blackout of the game. Other partners that chipped in to ensure a sellout were three Fox affiliates in the region -- WITI (Milwaukee), WLUK (Green Bay) and WFXS (Wausau) -- as well as Mills Fleet Farm and Bellin Health (Packers). In Milwaukee, Don Walker in a front-page piece noted a blackout would have been "astonishing for a storied franchise accustomed to packing Lambeau Field on game day." The last blackout for a Packers game was during the '83 Playoffs. The team this year did add 7,000 more seats, "bringing capacity to 80,750, third most in the league." However, the ticket situation is "all the more remarkable because of the reputation fans have for braving all kinds of weather." The "surprising turn of events can be traced, in part, to a new ticket policy and the team's poor play late in the season, which dampened interest among season-ticket holders reluctant to commit ahead of time to playoff tickets." The Packers' marketing staff this week "aggressively marketed the matchup," as e-mails "went out to season-ticket holders and through Ticketmaster." There was "some grumbling among Packers season-ticket holders about the new ticket policy, which was announced late in November." Season-ticket holders under the policy were "given the opportunity to buy their allotment of up to four playoff tickets." They had to "pay in advance for two playoff games, pay for the highest-priced seats and pay a handling fee." If the Packers had "not made the playoffs, the money would have been applied to next year's season tickets." In previous years, fans had the option of "getting the money refunded." A Packers officials said that "half of all season ticket holders did that" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 1/3).

COLTS ANNOUNCE SELL OUT
: PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio notes the Colts Friday morning announced that corporate partner Meijer has “purchased the remaining 1,200 non-premium tickets to Saturday’s game against the Chiefs, making it a sellout." The tickets will be "donated to local military families.” The Colts had “obtained an extended extension through Friday afternoon to sell all remaining non-premium tickets” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 1/3). The Colts now have "sold out 104 straight games, including the playoffs” (INDYSTAR.com, 1/3). In Indianapolis, Bob Kravitz writes the possibility of a blackout was "not an embarrassment for the city of Indianapolis" but "an embarrassment for the NFL, which continues to handle postseason tickets in a way that makes it too difficult to sell out stadiums for the country's most beloved and popular sport." The NFL "overprices playoff tickets ... and leaves fans with too little time to get themselves together in order to make a purchase." That situation will continue "with the proliferation of HD TVs ... until some measures are taken" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 1/3).

Some analysts believe the NFL places less
emphasis on the in-stadium experience
LEAGUE CREATED ITS OWN HEADACHE
: In Cincinnati, Paul Daugherty wrote the NFL has "done this to itself." The TV product is "wonderful, and TVs keep getting wonderful-er," while the at-game experience is "treading water" (CINCINNATI.com, 1/2). ESPN Radio's Ryan Ruocco said, “While the NFL has more consumers than ever, and in a television day and age where ratings are down everywhere except for the NFL because of the ridiculous options that we all have, they still do have an attendance problem. Which doesn’t speak to the popularity of the sport, it speaks to the reality of how great the medium is for television” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN Radio, 1/3). CSNBAYAREA.com's Ray Ratto wrote the potential NFL blackouts are "one more sign for the NFL that the in-game experience is spectacularly overrated, so that new stadiums really are the waste of money we always suspected they are" (CSNBAYAREA.com, 1/2). In Newark, Dave D'Alessandro writes of the possibility of blackouts, "You can dismiss this as a toxic confluence of three elements -- specifically, Price + Weather + HDTV -- and it would be hard to argue with the premise." Perhaps it is "a matter of fans deciding they no longer find it so appealing to pay $200 or $300 to sit on a bag of ice for three hours." The three ticket shortfalls are "curious, if you consider that it comes on the heels of horrendous PR resulting from the league’s CTE coverup, and antisocial behavior from virtually every precinct from Miami to New England." If the situation "happens again, the sport’s overlords might be forced to look at pricing and availability and fan motivation -- while reexamining whether their audience is still buying what they’re selling" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 1/3).

IS THE NFL HEARING THE FANS? SPORTS ON EARTH's Colin McGowan wrote fans are "communicating to the league that attending these games is either too expensive or not particularly more appealing than watching from their couch or at a bar." The NFL, if it "really believed the hogwash it was peddling about communities, would listen to fan bases that are telling it that its product isn’t worth the asking price." It "won’t do this, of course, because it doesn’t actually care" (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 1/2). In S.F., Ron Kroichick wrote, "If you're surprised by the Packers, Colts and Bengals struggling to sell out wild-card games, then you haven't been paying attention." Long ago, the message "from the sports establishment to Joe and Jane Fan became abundantly clear: We sincerely, deeply care about television viewers," but "ticket-buying spectators, not so much" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/3). In Philadelphia, Al Morganti writes, "Just think about the arrogance of the National Football League. Think about the arrogance of a league that would dare to even consider the blackout of a playoff game in any market." Whatever the reason for lower ticket sales, the NFL "has again put a gun to the head of the public." The NFL "blacking out a playoff game -- or even threatening to do so in a place like Green Bay -- is a total and compete disgrace." It is "not a disgrace to the fans, but a disgrace to a league that uses its fan base as a commodity that was bought, paid for, and expected to act appropriately" (PHILLY.com, 1/3).
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