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The 5 Dumbest Things on Wall Street: Oct. 1

3. NFL to Fans: "Drop Dead"

The NFL is on pace to break a record this season, but not one that many fans are likely to celebrate.

As we head into the fourth week of the season, the NFL is on pace to break a five-year high reached in 2009 of 22 games being blacked out in their home television markets. Uh, go team!?! The beleaguered Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had all of their home games blacked out, while the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders have each triggered the blackout by failing to sell out their stadiums

NFL rules dictate that games are to be blacked out in the home television market if it doesn't sell out within 72 hours of kickoff. Heading into this week, San Diego and Oakland have been blacked out and the St. Louis Rams -- who needed a 24-hour extension from the league to sell out Edward Jones Stadium last week -- are asking for the same this week.

So why does the NFL's attendance continue to drop (down from 17.3 million in 2008 to 16.7 million last season) while its TV ratings rise (up 15% last season)? Sports pundits blame poorly performing teams, the NFL blames the markets, the fans blame fickle followers, economic instability and myriad viewing options. All of the blame, however, rests with the NFL and its almost suicidal approach to shoring up its revenue stream.


The NFL sure ain't hurting for money, with Team Marketing Report reporting a 4.5% hike in the NFL's average ticket price this year to $76.47, as 18 teams raised the cost of attending a game in 2010. The average cost for a family of four to attend a game this year eclipses $420 -- or $95 more than the average cost of DirecTV's all-inclusive NFL Sunday Ticket package.

Ticket prices aren't the lone scapegoat, as teams in blacked out markets this year have either maintained last season's ticket prices (Oakland and San Diego) or actually lowered them (-2.9% in Tampa). If St. Louis is blacked out this week, it will be in spite of a 6.3% cut in ticket costs -- the second steepest in the league after the Atlanta Falcons' 8.1% discount.

Part of the explanation is the economy, which has hit both Florida and California especially hard. But a bigger part of it, however, is the NFL itself. The league's deals with Fox, CBS, NBC and ESPN bring hours of content into homes each week in high definition and, for the most part, for free. Cable subscribers can thank the NFL for helping to make ESPN a whopping $4.10 of their cable bill each month and its own NFL Network the fifth-highest-priced channel in cable, according to figures from SNL Kagan. However, those offerings and the NFL's exclusivity deal with DirecTV (DTV - Get Report) that offers all its Sunday games in HD (though still subject to local blackouts), its rebroadcast of games on NFL.com, and its increasing interest in its fantasy football operations -- which now include video highlights -- are taking their toll at ticket counters.

The NFL only piled on the problems this season by allowing fans with DirecTV, Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report), AT&T (T) U-Verse, Verizon FIOS and a handful of other service providers access to its high-definition RedZone channel. By showing only scoring drives and big plays -- which is what most casual fans want to see anyway -- and not subjecting that coverage to blackouts, the NFL is slowly removing any motivation to for fans to attend games.

In fact, the revenue from attendance and television is roughly the same at $4 billion apiece. If fans can sit at home and watch all the games in HD and at better angles than they'll have at the stadiums, why are they going to pay the same price to sit in the nosebleeds and get hosed on concessions?

TheStreet Says: The blackout rule is a lot like Chris Berman: old, annoying and irrelevant. We suggest that both should be retired.

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