Wednesday, September 23, 2009


A few thoughts about NFL blackout rules, which are quickly becoming as antiquated as the "No Smoking" light on airplanes.

First, from the blog, Skip Oliva:

Last week you and Andy were discussing the Jacksonville blackout situation, and Andy mentioned that during the 1993 expansion process, Baltimore had been the early frontrunner before Jacksonville won. I've been looking into this as part of my research for my forthcoming article on the NFL, and here's the other part of the story: Jacksonville had actually dropped out of the expansion process before the final vote, but Paul Tagliabue -- Peter King's favorite Hall of Fame candidate -- manipulated the process, put Jacksonvile back into the running, and steered the final vote in their favor.

There's no single explanation for Tagliabue's actions. Most likely it was because he saw Wayne Weaver as a strong ally -- a case of a commissioner picking his owners, which Bud Selig has been criticized for. Tagliabue may have also bypassed Baltimore as a favor to Jack Kent Cooke. I've speculated before that had Baltimore received an expansion team before Cooke's death, the Squire might have reconsidered his estate planning regarding the Redskins and provided a more orderly succession. Of course that is just speculation.

On a related note, your guest who discussed the NFL blackout rules left some important historical items out. The original blackout rule was adopted in 1951. It prohibited the telecast of a club's home games, and also the telecast of *any* games in a city where the home team had a game that day. In other words, if the Redskins played the Giants in New York, that game could be shown in DC, but New York television couldn't show any NFL games without a special exception from the Giants and the league.

The Justice Department sued the NFL in 1953 to overturn these rules as an antitrust violation. The judge upheld the home blackout policy but struck down the ban on showing out-of-market games. When the NFL later signed its single-network contract in 1961, the same judge found that this violated the strict terms of his 1953 decision. This despite the fact that the AFL, the NBA and NHL all had similar network deals. Thus, the NFL was subject to a different legal standard because of the earlier order. (This is a common problem in antitrust, of course.) That's why the NFL had to go to Congress.

And then there's this from a simple fan perspective....

Lewis Wheaton of Atlanta writes...

You know Czabe, I just caught your Czabecast about the "amenities" of going to a NFL game nowadays.

I agree that there are financial issues for some families, some folks with sweet TVs at home who would rather stay there. And that stadiums are not really agreeable to fans anymore.

You know, there is an interesting hypocrisy of the NFL. I live in Atlanta, and do not go to the games, because I am not a fan of the Falcons. Just like most cities, the NFL fans are not 100% fans of the local team. The only time I'd entertain the idea of going to see the Falcons is if my favorite team was playing there. So the NFL fan base in the city not being a fan of the local team is one problem.

But related to this is the onslaught of ads to sell me (as a resident of an NFL city, fan or not) on STAYING HOME and getting the FULL Sunday ticket NFL BUFFET. So, Rog, do you want me (and any other resident within 40 miles of an NFL stadium) to stay home and consume all the games, or do you want me to pack up my family and pay lots of money to see one? Why would I go to golden corral and buy only Salisbury steak, when I can more affordably get access to the entire buffet... AT THE SAME PRICE!!!???

NFL Ticket for the whole season is $300 and I have a very high probability to see a good game (some game somewhere will be close in the 4th quarter... it happens every week). Comapre that to parking, some number of tickets, gas, food/beverage at any stadium in the country. And I am not stuck in the bleachers potentially watching a snooze-fest with no other option (recall the ads promote the idea that you are missing great plays on other games because you're stuck with cable!!! That applies to games you're going to also!!!).

The NFL has essentially out-marketed itself. You tell people there's a better alternative, don't punish folks for taking it. The NFL is ubiquitous. The league want's its channel freely available everywhere, RedZone coverage, Ticket.... Just like with newspapers, easily available access to all of your product has made fans opt for the cheaper route. Present blackout rules are absurd and antiquated. And it is the NFL's fault that they have gotten to that point.

REACT: Well, well, said. All of these contradictory marketing messages are converging now, and will produce endemic non-sellouts around the country. At least until the NFL gets smart, and makes the game-day experience as compelling, and immersive with video options in and around the stadium of the REST of the NFL product, that you are missing.

If it were my league, I would insist that teams invest in THREE large video screens in the stadium that show ONLY other games, and HI-LITES without sound at all times.

1 comment:

  1. I'll take the friendly confines of my own house over a stadium filled with 75,000 drunken idiots any day. Last Sunday I fired up the grill and then watched games on my multi-HD setup with a few friends. Didn't have to sit in traffic for hours. Didn't have to pay $25 to park. Didn't have to put up with jackasses who try to pick fights with me simply because I root for the opposing team. The home tailgate is definitely where it's at. Why sign your life away to guys like Dan Snyder who will sue your ass if you ever fall on hard times? DirecTV won't sue you if you cancel the Sunday Ticket. I usually try to go to one game a year in person, and I usually end up wishing that I would have stayed home.