Six Blackouts in Four Weeks For NFL

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The NFL has now blacked out six games in four weeks, but some teams' home games may be on television's injured reserve list for the entire season.

The Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers took out half of the AFC West's armchair fanbase by failing to sell out their Sunday home games within 72 hours of kickoff. It's a particularly special blackout for Raiders followers in Oakland, who've missed out on nine straight home games as the Oakland Coliseum's notorious "Black Hole" has faded to a dull gray in recent years. Oakland hasn't watched a televised home game since last year's season opener and, including the blackout of this week's matchup against the surging Houston Texans, the league has blacked out 78 of the Raiders' 122 home games since the team moved back from Los Angeles in 1995. The Raiders' 87-145 record in that span and the fact that they haven't won more than five games in a season since CBS ( CBS) commentator Rich Gannon took them to the Super Bowl in 2002 likely hasn't helped fill the Coliseum's more than 63,000 seats.

But seriously, San Diego? Those fans watched as their hometown powerhouse made the playoffs five out of the past six years and sold out 48 straight games during that span, but cornerback Antonio Cromartie and running back LaDanian Tomlinson fly off to the New York Jets and they can't fill Qualcomm ( QCOM) Stadium anymore? Really? Quarterback Philip Rivers is still in the pocket, his weapons are still there, but the Chargers lose to the now 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs and drop a one-touchdown heartbreaker to the Seattle Seahawks when nobody can handle Leon Washington on a kick return and fans think the season's over at 1-2? San Diego is a beautiful fair-weather city, but it wasn't clear that label applied to its football fans as well.

"Fair-weather" may be oversimplifying things a bit. Unlike Oakland Raiders fans, who haven't been able to utter the team's "Commitment to Excellence" motto without irony in years, San Diego fans have experienced their team's success at a premium. While the team hasn't raised its average ticket price in two years, according to Team Marketing Report it jumped 10% in 2008, to $81.39. That price is still above the league average of $76.47, and the price to take 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.

Oakland, meanwhile, has the fifth-lowest average ticket price in the league at $62.23, but a $359 day at the stadium with the family is still more expensive than the $325 cost of watching a full season's worth of NFL games (blackout restrictions permitting) on DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket. With Oakland hovering around 20% unemployment and San Diego's jobless rate at 10.6%, both above the national average of 9.6%, the NFL shouldn't be shocked fans in both areas are content with watching DirecTV ( DTV), the NFL's blackout-proof big-play-only RedZone channel on cable or substitute games on free television. The Indianapolis Colts-Jacksonville Jaguars game that's replacing the Raiders may be the best AFC contest Oakland sees all season.

The NFL will point out that fans and corporate sponsors of the 0-3 San Francisco 49ers -- including Visa ( V), H-P ( HP) and Comcast ( CMCSA) -- sold out their lone home game at 50-year-old Candlestick Park amid California's 12.4% unemployment. Yes, a winless team is California's most stable NFL draw, but it's also a team with a strong corporate base and a new Santa Clara-based stadium in its not-so-distant future. This is far from the case in every NFL city, as Tampa Bay, St. Louis, Detroit, the other two California teams and others have proven already this season through blackouts and ticket sales extensions.

The NFL's blackout policy has drawn a clear line between its have and have-not locations, but that doesn't mean the teams with deeper pockets are selling all their tickets. The New York Jets and Giants failed to sell out their season openers after potential season-ticket buyers balked at personal seat license fees when the teams raised average ticket prices 31% and 26%, respectively. The teams were forced to buy back unsold tickets to avoid opening-day blackouts and the Jets, just this week, made repurchased tickets for remaining home games available at a 9.5% discount through third-party seller Plum Benefits.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used similar tactics to avoid blackouts last season, but stopped the unsustainable practice this year -- leading to two local blackouts. The NFL doesn't seem to be losing sleep over lost game broadcasts in Tampa, Oakland and San Diego, but a midseason blackout in the Big Apple would be a great 4-and-inches test of the NFL's blackout stance.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte.

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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.

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