Of this year's 14 blackouts, more than two thirds involved just two teams: The Buccaneers and the Cincinnati Bengals. The 4-9 Bucs could pin their problems on terrible play this season, but not last year when every home game was blacked out during a winning campaign. The Bengals, on the other hand, could blame a terrible four-win season for a string of blackouts at the end of 2010 but are 7-6 behind upstart quarterback Andy Dalton this year.
In both towns, the economy has taken its toll on fan bases that already spent millions in public tax dollars to build team stadiums. It's not about play and it's not about the franchise's future: It's about the cost of supporting a team that can't even show home games on a regular basis. For Buffalo and the San Diego Chargers, meanwhile, uncertainty surrounding their stadiums and not-so-subtle overtures by cities including Toronto and Los Angeles is being expressed through flagging Sunday attendance. Neither team is heading to the playoffs this year, but fans more unsure about where each team is heading when leases at Ralph Wilson Stadium and Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) Stadium end have bigger problems than missing the postseason.
There wouldn't be so much angst in these markets if the league and its broadcast partners used the means available to them to end blackouts. In Miami, for instance, a horrible season that led to Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano's firing would have been a lot worse if the local CBS affiliate hadn't stepped in. On multiple occasions this year, CBS4 WFOR and the Dolphins have exploited a loophole in the NFL blackout rule that allows teams, their sponsors and their broadcasters to buy unsold tickets for 34 cents on the dollar and give them to local charities.Why doesn't this option come up in TV rights negotiations? If the NFL is going to squeeze networks for billions more anyway over the next four years, why not raise the price, create a blackout fund and keep teams on the air all season instead of punitively stripping home games off of local market television? Or, you know, do away with the blackout deal altogether and realize that the exclusive broadcast rights it sells to the networks, cable stations and satellite television providers are a far more precious commodity than the seats in its stadiums. If the NFL takes away anything from the networks' multibillion-dollar bid for their games and the blackouts that followed, it's that the only seats most NFL fans care about filling are those in their warm homes in front of their HDTVs and the Sunday ticket they're most interested in buying is the multigame, seasonlong package sold by DirecTV (DTV) -- for less than the cost of taking their family to the stadium. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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