) -- The Buffalo Bills are blacked out on local television again? If only there were a business with an extra $2.2 billion kicking around that could help them out.
The Bills' Sunday matchup with the Miami Dolphins was yanked from the local CBS affiliate after the team still had roughly 7,000 tickets unsold 72 hours before kickoff. Never mind that the 66,000 the Bills did sell would fill stadiums in nine NFL markets larger that Buffalo (Chicago, Indianapolis, Oakland, Arizona, Minneapolis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Tampa). Those 66,000 fans, meanwhile, will be shivering in Buffalo temperatures that peak at 35 degrees while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have drawn that big a crowd only once this season in a town where thermometers spend Decembers drifting through the mid-70s.
Brian Frederick, executive director of the National Sports Fans Coalition fan advocacy and lobbying group, says that part of the problem is the 73,079 capacity at Buffalo's Ralph Wilson Stadium, which is much higher than the 61,500 sellout crowd at major-market Chicago's Soldier Field. Considering the population of Buffalo is nearly 293,000, while the population of Chicago is 2.9 million, Frederick implies that Bills ownership expecting a quarter of Buffalo's population to pay to attend games every other Sunday is about as unrealistic as asking 725,000 Chicago residents to come see the Bears.
But sellouts are of utmost importance. Seats must be filled. Attention must be paid!
That line of NFL reasoning would be a lot easier to swallow if the NFL hadn't just renewed its television deal with
through 2022, increased its take from $1.9 billion per year to $3.1 billion and potentially boosted overall revenue by
as much as 60%
. That follows an eight-year extension the league signed with
earlier this year to keep "Monday Night Football" on that network through 2021 and bump up its fee to $1.9 billion a year from $1.1 billion.
The NFL and the networks think this is grand. The new deal gives it more schedule flexibility to dump late-season matchups between losing teams outside their markets (such as Bills-Dolphins, for instance) for better games and cuts conference ties to networks to allow AFC to be shown on Fox and NFC games on CBS. It also adds more Thursday night games to the schedule, gives NBC the NFL Network's prime-time Thanksgiving game and a pregame show to anchor its NBC Sports Network (currently Versus).
Why shouldn't they love it? Their games were 23 of the Top 25 televised programs watched this fall. Their ratings dwarf those of even the strongest prime-time shows.
The one thing these new deals fail to address, however, is the NFL's blackout rule. Perhaps it's because there have been only 14 blackouts across the league this year, well off last year's 26-blackout pace. That lower number obscures the larger problem of the NFL rule affecting some markets a whole lot more than others.