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 TV blackouts were “meant to encourage ticket sales, but the strict guidelines are now looking outdated.”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).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell Friday sent a memo to all 32 teams stating it is "the league -- and not an individual team -- that will control the relocation process" to L.A., according to sources cited by Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. In making that point, Goodell "put in writing what was discussed by owners at a May meeting in Atlanta and established rules for moving back to a market that has been without an NFL franchise" since the Raiders and Rams left L.A. after the '94 season. Although the memo refers specifically to the '13 season, it "does not necessarily mean the league is ready to reenter the market immediately." However, it does "underscore how seriously the NFL is considering the current opportunities." In order to be considered for relocation, Goodell wrote that a team "must submit its application to do so between Jan. 1 and Feb. 15." What the league "doesn't want is a team making the unilateral decision to relocate to L.A. intending to play in the Rose Bowl or Coliseum for a few years with the hope of moving over to a new venue once a stadium solution is found." The guidelines are "partly intended to discourage squatting on the market." Raising the "long-held league belief that L.A. is a two-team market," Goodell wrote, "Consistent with our long-standing view, we have made it clear that any stadium seeking investment support from the 32 member clubs should preserve a viable option of being able to host two teams at appropriate times and on appropriate terms." Goodell specifically "made reference to the AEG proposal in downtown L.A. and Ed Roski's concept in the City of Industry." He wrote, "We are also exploring the availability of other sites in the Los Angeles area." Goodell added that any application to relocate "will be acted on as soon as possible, but that it's unlikely any vote would be taken before the annual meeting" in March '13 (L.A. TIMES, 6/30). The AP's Barry Wilner noted Goodell in the memo mentioned "a Hall of Fame, studios for NFL Network and youth football facilities accompanying a stadium." A team seeking to move to L.A. "must have a viable interim stadium plan while the new building is being built; a marketing plan with respect to personal seat licenses, premium seating, and naming rights; and must give certain financial guarantees to the league" (AP, 6/29).
WAKE-UP CALL? In St. Louis, Bryan Burwell wrote while it might have appeared that Goodell "simply sent a private memo to the NFL's 32 franchise owners Friday, in reality he broadcast a clarion call to every nervous American city that has an NFL franchise playing in an outdated stadium, haggling over a bad lease or fretting over sagging local attendance." L.A. is "officially in play as a fabulous alternative to every disgruntled pro football owner." After years of considering L.A. "an empty threat because of stadium issues, the Rams landlords now have something to worry about." Burwell: "This is the doomsday scenario I have been worrying about for years. Get the deal done before Los Angeles becomes a legitimate alternative." The memo was a "warning to cities such as St. Louis, San Diego, Jacksonville, Oakland and Buffalo that the clock is ticking on negotiations with their prospective teams" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 7/1). WILLING TO LISTEN: In L.A., Steve Dilbeck noted Guggenheim Baseball Management, the Dodgers' new ownership group, has "not spoken to the NFL about building a stadium next to Dodger Stadium" and has "no immediate plans to do so." However, they are "open to the possibility." Dodgers Chair Mark Walter said, "We haven’t talked about it or thought about it a lot. It’s not on our radar screen. I mean, we’re trying to fix this place and get our team running and make this the best experience possible for our fans. If that came on our radar screen, we’d deal with it. But it’s not right now. The NFL has not approached us with anything" (LATIMES.com, 6/30).
The issue of grunting in tennis was discussed on ESPN's "Outside The Lines" yesterday, with WTA Chair & CEO Stacey Allaster saying fans are "telling us pretty clearly that they would like us to address the noise level.” Allaster added, "No doubt on this particular issue, there seems to be a growing concern from fans around the world: They don’t like it. It’s too loud.” Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova said, “It’s hurting the game. It’s not just the players that are affected, it’s the fans.” ESPN's Kelli Naqi noted Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka, the top two players on the WTA, are "among the loudest grunters or shriekers in the sport." ESPN’s Brad Gilbert added it is the "next generation that it’s affected." Gilbert: "It’s the kids that watch on TV, they watch their stars do it and they emulate it.” ESPN’s Chris Evert said, “You’re not going to stop it overnight, and the players won’t stop it anyway. They run the Tour. The top players provide a living for 200 other players. So they have a lot of power. But give it a year.” However, Navratilova said, “You start giving them point penalties, they’ll stop. They will be hitting the ball just as hard.” ESPN's Pam Shriver said, "Let’s face it, to legislate against things that are annoying to any of our senses ... is a slippery slope.” Shriver added that a lot of it is “PR-driven because it’s really terrible public relations at a time for women’s tennis where we’ve come off four years ... of unstable top players that can’t hang on to the No. 1 spot.” Meanwhile, Gilbert said, “I’m amazed -- honestly -- that companies pay them so much money to sponsor them when they scream like that” (“Outside The Lines,” ESPN, 7/1).
NECESSARY MOVE? In Orlando, Shannon Owens notes the "most notable grunter" happens to Sharapova, and Owens asks, "Why would the sport aim to create a rule that directly targets one of its top players?" That would be the "equivalent of NBA Commissioner David Stern creating a policy against head bands knowing LeBron James likes to wear them." Owens: "You don't have to like it, but if it gives them an edge -- be it physical or mental -- and it's within the rules of the sport, that should be of no one else's concern" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/2).