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Another Week, Another TV Blackout for NFL

The NFL blacks out its fourth home game in three weeks as fans find alternatives to rising ticket prices.
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TAMPA, Fla. (TheStreet) -- The NFL's had more local TV blackouts than weeks of action as it heads into Week 3. Fan-tastic.

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced Thursday that a last-minute sales push wasn't enough to sell out their home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it gave the NFL its fourth broadcast blackout of the season. It was the second for Tampa, which failed to sell out its home opener two weeks ago and was the first of three teams to black out their home openers. The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders also blacked out their first home game of the season last week when they couldn't convince enough fans to watch them play the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and St. Louis Rams, respectively.

Throughout the league, the number of empty seats is worse than the four blackouts indicate. This week alone, the Rams needed a 24-hour extension from the league -- which normally imposes a blackout if a game isn't sold out 72 hours before kickoff -- to fill the Edward Jones Dome for Sunday's matchup with the Washington Redskins. The Jaguars, meanwhile, avoided a blackout for their home game against the

Philadelphia Eagles

despite roughly 7,000 unsold tickets from the Eagles' allotment. The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, needed an extension from the NFL to sell out their meeting with the Eagles last week.

There's no perfect scapegoat for this season's swaths of empty seats. According to Team Marketing Report's findings released last week, the average ticket price in the NFL is up 4.5% this season, to $76.47. Meanwhile, the average price for a family of four to attend the game and pay for parking, concessions and souvenirs rose 4%, to $420. Comparatively, the average price of DirecTV's all-encompasing

NFL Sunday Ticket

package is $325 a year.

This partially explains why the New York Giants and Jets, which regularly sold out home games and had years-long season-ticket waiting lists at the old Giants Stadium, have had trouble with season ticket packages this year. While personal seat license fees played a role, the Giants raised average season ticket prices this year 26%, to $111.69. That's merciful compared with the Jets, who soaked Ed the Fireman and his J-E-T-S loyalists with a 31.8% increase, to $114.64 -- the second-highest ticket price in the league behind the New England Patriots.

Yet those teams still sell out home games. Tampa Bay's average ticket price dropped 2.9%, to $72.10, while the team is off to a 2-0 start. The Chargers and Raiders, meanwhile, held average ticket prices steady this year at $81.39 and $62.23 respectively. While performance has been an issue for Oakland, San Diego has made the playoffs for four years straight and for five out of the past six.

The economy is part of the problem, but the fact is that fans have a lot more, cheaper options for watching the game that offer them a better view of the action than sitting in the nosebleeds. The NFL's done itself no favors by allowing fans with

DirecTV

(DTV)

, Comcast

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,

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AT&T

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U-Verse,

Verizon FIOS

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and a handful of other service providers access to its high-definition RedZone channel this year. It only shows scoring drives and big plays, but that's really what most casual fans want to see and it doesn't discriminate by market -- meaning you can see every drive your home team makes even if the long-form game is blacked out.

Meanwhile, the Tampa Tribune pointed Bucs fans to mascot-appropriate pirated live streams from

ATDHE.net

,

Justin TV

,

BlipTV

and

Ustream

. They don't have the expressed written consent of the NFL, whose representatives say they'll "vigorously protect our product" though cease-and-desist letters and takedown notices, but loyal, frugal fans are using the option anyway. Plus, with the NFL's free broadcasts shown in HD and a game from another market replacing the blacked-out hometown matchup, borderline fans are still offered a crisp view of NFL action for the double-digit cost of an HD antenna.

This won't be the last week NFL games are blacked out to their hometown audiences this season but, considering their options, it may one of the last weeks fans less concerned with the NFL's bottom line than their own actually care.

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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.