Jump to content



Recommended Posts

Blackout policies

Since 1973, the NFL has maintained a blackout policy that states that a home game cannot be televised locally if it is not sold out within 72 hours prior to its start time. Prior to 1973, all games were blacked out in their city of origin regardless of whether they were sold out. This policy, dating back to the NFL's emerging years on television, resulted in home-city blackouts that even extended to championship games. For instance, the 1958 "Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants was not available on TV to New York fans despite the fact that tickets were out of reach to most. For years, Giants fans would migrate to Connecticut motel rooms every home weekend where they could watch the games beamed on Hartford/New Haven's CBS affiliate WTIC (Channel 3). Similarly, all Super Bowl games prior to Super Bowl VII were blacked out in the host city's market.

Although that policy was successfully defended in court numerous times, Congress passed legislation requiring the NFL to impose the 72-hour deadline (see above). The league will sometimes extend this deadline to 48 hours if there are only a few thousand tickets left unsold.

Alternatively, some NFL teams have arrangements with local TV stations or businesses to buy up unsold tickets. Tickets in premium "club" sections have been excluded from the blackout rule in past years, as have tickets returned by the visiting team. The Jacksonville Jaguars have even gone further and closed off a number of sections at their home Jacksonville Municipal Stadium to reduce the number of tickets they would need to sell (Jacksonville Municipal Stadium is one of the largest in the NFL, as it was built to also accommodate the annual Florida-Georgia game and the Gator Bowl, but Jacksonville is one of the smallest markets in the league). However, the NFL requires that this be done for every home game in a given season if a team elects such an option, so that they can't try to sell out the entire stadium only when they expect to be able to do so.

The NFL defines "locally" as within a 75-mile radius of the stadium. Therefore, a TV blackout affects any market whose broadcast signal penetrates into the 75-mile radius. Some primary media markets, such as Denver and Phoenix, may cover that entire radius and so the blackout would not affect any other markets.

An exception to the 75-mile rule is the market area for the Green Bay Packers, which stretches out to both the Green Bay and Milwaukee television markets (the team's radio flagship station is in Milwaukee, and two Packer home games a year were played at Milwaukee County Stadium until 1994). However, blackout rules rarely come into effect for the Packers, due to a four-decade long streak of sellouts and a decades-long season ticket waiting list.

Another policy to ensure a filled-up stadium is that no other NFL games can air on local TV at the same time as a team's home game in the club's primary market. This is to prevent ticket-holders from opting to watch the other locally televised NFL game instead of showing up at the stadium. Thus when a team's home game is on the network showing a single game, the network televising the doubleheader can only broadcast one game into that club's primary market; instead of showing a second game in the same time slot as the home game, the doubleheader network's local station must broadcast alternative programming (often movies or infomercials). When the doubleheader network has a team's home game, the other station might program the time themselves or air some other network programming scheduled for the non-NFL time-slot. However, in special occasions, this rule may be relaxed. One example of this is the week when CBS carries the U.S. Open. Since CBS only carries 1:00 games on that Sunday, it may show those games opposite a team which has a home game on FOX at the same time.

Each TV market, including one hosting a non-sold-out game, is assured of at least one televised game in the early and late time slots, one game on each network, but no "network doubleheader" in a market originating a non-sold-out game.

The New York and San Francisco Bay Area media markets typically get fewer doubleheaders than other markets since each has two teams, and one of them is at home virtually every week. The main exception is when one of the teams is idle, has its home game televised on the doubleheader network, or is chosen for a prime-time game. This policy affects only the club's primary market, not others with signals that penetrate inside the 75-mile radius. It also does not affect viewers of NFL Sunday Ticket in the primary market; all other games remain available.

If a home game is blacked out locally because it is not sold out before the 72-hour deadline, one of the following things will happen:

* If the blacked out home game is a nationally televised game on a broadcast network, like NBC Sunday Night Football, where no other NFL games are played at the same time, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must broadcast alternative programming (the stations have to program the time themselves, since other affiliates are carrying the game).

* If the blacked-out nationally televised game is on a cable television network like ESPN or the NFL Network, all cable and satellite television providers in the affected markets must black out the cable network's signal to customers in the affected markets during the game (this is a condition of the channels' agreements with both the league and the providers). In addition, the game is not simulcast on a local broadcast station in the blacked-out markets. Local stations would still be able to show highlights on their newscasts after the game has concluded.

* If the blacked-out home game is played on a Sunday afternoon, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must show a different NFL game during that time slot (the network typically chooses the game). Also, NFL Sunday Ticket cannot offer the game into that area. As stated earlier, the doubleheader network can broadcast only one game into that team's primary market (usually the #1 game), which is also designed to prevent people from opting to watch the other locally televised NFL games instead of going to the local team's game. Again, the secondary markets would still carry a doubleheader. Sometimes, the networks will switch time slots so that the doubleheader network can still show its featured 4:15 game.

Critics claim that these blackout policies are not really effective in creating sold-out, filled stadiums. Rather, there are other factors that cause non-sellouts, such as high ticket prices and the fact that people do not want to support a losing team. Furthermore, TV blackouts may actually hurt the league; without the TV exposure, it becomes more difficult for those teams with low attendance and few sellouts to increase their popularity and following. [12]

Conversely, the NFL has sold out well over 90 percent of games in recent seasons. Additionally, many teams sell out their entire regular season schedule before it begins (usually through season-ticket sales), and so there is no threat of a blackout in those markets. In addition, some teams with recent losing records like the Cleveland Browns still sell out all their home games due to the rabid fan bases of such teams who watch their team regardless of how good or bad the team is doing. Fans of other NFL teams such as the Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, New York Jets and Washington Redskins (among others) also have no fear of blackouts in their local markets due to years-long waiting lists for season tickets.

In 2005, for the first time in its history, the NFL lifted the blackout policies for a team: the New Orleans Saints. Due to damage by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints split their home games between Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Alamodome in San Antonio. Even though the city limits of Baton Rouge are more than 75 miles from New Orleans, the blackout rules normally apply, since affiliates from the media market penetrate within the radius.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...