Will blackouts go dark for good?
Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.
The NFL’s one-year suspension of its policy to not broadcast games locally that don’t meet certain sales thresholds is not depressing attendance after more than a quarter of the season is complete.
Before announcing in March the minimum one-year hiatus, the NFL had for some time argued strenuously that the blackout policy was necessary to preserve local sellouts — both by encouraging fans to come to games and pressuring teams to sell tickets to ensure the contests are televised.
But through the first 77 games of this season (30 percent of the schedule), attendance was essentially flat: down by less than 1 percent. Additionally, had the old policy remained in effect, all games would have been televised locally regardless — even those of the St. Louis Rams, who are struggling to draw fans with team owner Stan Kroenke trying to relocate the franchise to Los Angeles.
2015 NFL ATTENDANCE (THROUGH OCT. 13)
|TEAM||AVG. PER HOME GAME (NO. OF DATES)||CHANGE FROM 2014||% CAPACITY FILLED|
|Dallas Cowboys||92,326 (3)||+1.3%||115.4%|
|New Orleans Saints||73,008 (2)||0.0%||107.4%|
|Indianapolis Colts||65,415 (2)||+0.7%||103.8%|
|Seattle Seahawks||69,004 (2)||+0.8%||103.0%|
|Chicago Bears||62,401 (3)||+0.5%||101.5%|
|San Francisco 49ers||70,799 (2)||0.0%||101.1%|
|Denver Broncos||76,914 (2)||0.0%||101.0%|
|Houston Texans||71,742 (3)||0.0%||101.0%|
|Minnesota Vikings*||52,360 (2)||+0.2%||100.7%|
|Philadelphia Eagles||69,296 (2)||-0.4%||100.2%|
|Baltimore Ravens||71,008 (2)||-0.1%||100.0%|
|Cleveland Browns||67,431 (2)||0.0%||100.0%|
|New England Patriots||66,829 (2)||-2.8%||100.0%|
|Miami Dolphins||74,428 (2)||+5.4%||99.7%|
|Kansas City Chiefs||76,102 (2)||+1.3%||99.6%|
|Atlanta Falcons||70,199 (3)||-0.5%||98.6%|
|Buffalo Bills||70,618 (3)||+1.5%||98.3%|
|Arizona Cardinals||63,237 (3)||+3.1%||97.3%|
|Carolina Panthers||73,328 (2)||-0.5%||97.2%|
|Oakland Raiders||54,167 (3)||-14.8%||96.6%|
|Green Bay Packers||78,360 (3)||+0.4%||96.2%|
|Detroit Lions||61,868 (2)||-2.1%||95.9%|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||65,201 (2)||+2.3%||95.3%|
|Tennessee Titans||65,795 (2)||-4.8%||95.1%|
|New York Jets||78,160 (2)||0.0%||94.7%|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||63,088 (2)||-0.5%||94.4%|
|San Diego Chargers||65,820 (3)||+5.1%||94.0%|
|New York Giants||77,425 (3)||-1.6%||93.8%|
|Cincinnati Bengals||60,027 (3)||+4.1%||91.6%|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||59,968 (3)||-1.4%||91.0%|
|Washington Redskins||74,580 (3)||-6.8%||91.0%|
|St. Louis Rams||52,113 (2)||-8.8%||79.0%|
Notes: Totals include a designated Miami home game played in London this season, and a designated Oakland home game in London in 2014. Teams can exceed 100 percent capacity because of standing-room-only ticket sales. The NFL's 2015 season started a calendar week later than the 2014 season.
* The Vikings are playing home games at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium (52,000 capacity) both this season and last season while the new U.S. Bank Stadium is being built.
Compiled by Brandon McClung
The Rams as of last week were the only team whose ticket sales were below 85 percent of stadium capacity, a threshold that could have triggered a local blackout in the past. However, Kevin Demoff, the team’s chief operating officer, wrote in an email that the team still would have avoided blackouts this year, noting that “once you back out suites and club seats, the math gets easier.”
The Rams had sold 79 percent of available seats across their first two home games.
In the past, clubs always had ways to calculate their attendance figures so as to avoid blackouts — such as, like Demoff pointed out, excluding certain seats from the calculation. Last year, the league had no blackouts; in 2013, there were only two. The results were due to increased sales efforts, but also in part by the league redefining down the term sellout.
The league, however, is still putting pressure on teams in another way to sell tickets. Clubs that do not sell at least 85 percent of capacity must continue to pay the visiting-team share of the incremental difference to the league. In other words, if a team were 1,000 tickets short of 85 percent, it would need to take 33 percent, the visiting-team share, of the value of those 1,000 tickets, and cut a check to the league pool that gets shared with the league’s 31 other clubs.
Team executives, who asked for anonymity because the visiting-team share element has not been publicized since the end of the blackout policy, said they do not think it has had an effect on this year’s attendance story.
“I don’t know if it has affected the impact, but I would doubt it,” one top team executive said. “I think the league wanted to relax the blackout policy while keeping all other policies in place, so you didn’t have too many variables.”
The league in recent years came under strong pressure from regulators and politicians to end the blackout policy. Given that pressure, and the year’s attendance to date, it might be unlikely the league goes back to blacking out games locally. Still, games in December, when some teams are out of contention, can be tough sells, and if that leads to a sharp year-over-year attendance drop, it could change the approach.
Commissioner Roger Goodell in March said the league would review after the 2015 season the effect of suspending the blackout policy and make a decision then how to proceed.