SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- The San Diego Chargers home game against the New England Patriots on Sunday won't be blacked out on local television. The rest of the season draws a blank.
The Chargers avoided a blackout for the first time this season when they sold out little more than 72 hours before kickoff, which is the NFL's blackout deadline. The team's first two home games were blacked out locally, though, and piles of unsold tickets remain for upcoming games against the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 31, the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 5 and even for a Monday night matchup against AFC West division rival Denver Broncos on
More possible blackouts didn't sit well with Kyle McCarthy -- a San Diego-area human resources employee who kicked the halftime fan field goal during the Chargers' blacked-out game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 2. He started the group
this week. Its stated purpose is to keep the Chargers on San Diego-area screens by soliciting local businesses and fans for donations. The money goes into a kitty that will be used to buy up remaining Chargers tickets and donate them to charities.
"We were kind of looking around the Chargers' schedule and we've only seen one game that's a definite sellout: this weekend's game versus the Patriots," McCarthy says. "Part of it is the way the team's been playing, but the other part of it is that the economy in San Diego and Southern California's been hit pretty hard."
San Diego's unemployment stands at 10.6%, lower than the statewide 12.4% rate but exceeding the national average of 9.6%. San Diego real estate research firm MDA DataQuick, meanwhile, says San Diego area home sales declined 2.4% from August to September and are down 16% from September 2009 to last month.
The Chargers haven't raised their average ticket price in two years but, according to Team Marketing Report, it jumped 10% in 2008, to $81.39. That eclipses the league average of $76.47, while the cost of taking a family of four to a game at Qualcomm -- including parking, food and souvenirs -- is $16 more than the NFL's average rate of $420. Those economic realities are just part of the reason fans are staying home and either shrugging off football altogether, watching Chargers games online or watching other teams' games on
package for roughly $100 less than taking the family to Qualcomm
"It's the price of the tickets, but it's also the seats," McCarthy says. "A fan e-mailed me this week and said they wanted to go to the game this weekend and the seat available was $100 and 'obstructed view,' which is tough to swallow when you're paying for parking, drinks, hot dogs and everything else."
Chargers fans wouldn't be in this position if the team hadn't been so good in recent years. The Bolts made the playoffs five out of the past six seasons and sold out 48 straight games during that span. Their sluggish 2-4 start this season is already being written off by McCarthy and other fans as an early season funk they've seen before. In their first six games, the Chargers put up 432.7 yards a game on offense and allowed just 255.2 yards a game on defense -- leading the NFL in both categories and easily surpassing every other team in the underwhelming AFC West.
"They had a winning team, so you could understand the price issue for their standpoint," McCarthy says. "We're hopeful, from our standpoint, that our organization can help us out."
There's one little loophole in the NFL's blackout policy that could lead to a win for Chargers fans and McCarthy's group. The league sometimes allows teams to buy back tickets at a third of their cost and give them to charitable organizations and other groups. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used that strategy last year, but discontinued it this year when costs became prohibitive. Coincidentally, Tampa Bay recently announced its whole season will be blacked out.
McCarthy is pushing for the buybacks on behalf of partners including Big Brothers Big Sisters and the San Diego Boys and Girls Club.
"They're ecstatic, and I've had military organizations and schools contact me, so hopefully it will work and we can share the wealth," McCarthy says. "It's all about getting people out to the stadium who otherwise wouldn't have a chance to do so."
Money for the ticket pool is coming at a slow trickle after this week's sellout muted fans' sense of urgency. Still, the NFL shows little will or desire to change its blackout policy or grant leniency, and the Chargers' home schedule is short of marquee matchups once the Pats leave town. As the Chargers can attest after spending the year without star wide receiver Vincent Jackson and facing a long Sunday with banged-up tight end Antonio Gates, sometimes it pays to have a good backup.
"Some of the donations started coming in just last night," McCarthy said Thursday. "People tend to have tunnel vision for the game right in front of them, but I'm hoping that when they hear that the Titans game might be blacked out too, they'll start donating."
--Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.