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Did The NFL's New Blackout Policy Work?

That count isn't going down as stadiums go up, either. At least $115 million in public funds are going into the new San Francisco 49ers facility, Levi's Stadium, opening in Santa Clara next year. Minnesota is on the hook for about $500 million of the proposed $974 million Vikings stadium planned for 2016, though that's still being negotiated. In Atlanta, where the Falcons' Georgia Dome is a scant 21 years old, Atlanta has already pledged $200 million toward a proposed $1 billion stadium.

Meanwhile, the NFL earns money from images broadcast from those facilities whether or not the taxpayers who shelled out for them are blacked out.

NFL games accounted for 31 out of 32 of the most-watched TV broadcasts last fall and more than doubled the prime-time viewership of Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC. Fox> (FOXA), CBS> (CBS) and Comcast's> (CMCSA) NBC agreed to pay the NFL $28 billion for broadcast rights through 2022. Walt Disney's (DIS) ESPN has a separate $1.9 billion annual deal for Monday night football, while DirecTV (DTV) has a $1 billion per season agreement for the NFL Sunday Ticket package that is set to become even more lucrative once the current contract expires in 2015.

The Glazer family of owners in Tampa, where taxes paid for 100% of the $194 million cost of building the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Raymond James Stadium in 1998, seem to have taken McCain's threat to heart. Amid a season in which opening-day starting quarterback Josh Freeman was released from the team and head coach Greg Schiano drew scrutiny for potentially leaking sensitive information about Freeman, the Glazers vowed that all remaining Buccaneers home games will be televised this season. The owners plan to use a league loophole that allows them to buy back tickets for a third of their face value and distribute them to charitable organizations.

It's a strategy that's been used before by the Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and their sponsors and is already gaining momentum this year. The Dolphins have been buying up unsold tickets over the past couple of years as season ticket purchases have dwindled from more than 61,000 in 2006 to little more than 40,000 last year. Ownership is looking for $350 million in stadium renovations and seems aware that keeping the Dolphins off television isn't a great way to get them. In San Diego, where the Spanos family that owns the Chargers is openly courting other cities as the city patently refuses to build the team a new stadium on its terms, local sponsors and ESPN itself had to pitch in to keep the Chargers' Monday Night Football matchup with the Indianapolis Colts on the air this week. The Chargers were on the brink of becoming the first team in more than a decade to have a Monday night game blacked out, but had four home games blacked out last year and avoided a fifth only after a similar arrangement was made to keep a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on the NFL Network.

In Buffalo, where television blackouts usually don't occur until the miserable, wintry end of the season, ownership stepped in and bought up remaining tickets to keep a home game against the Cincinnati Bengals on air. It was a favorable turn for Bills owners, who celebrated a $226 million deal made last year to upgrade Ralph Wilson Stadium by blacking out the final home game of the 2012 season.
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