Detroit Among 3 NFL Blackouts in Week 8

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- Nearly 17% of the NFL's teams had big problems selling tickets this week. That's already cost fans in 9% of its markets a televised home game this Sunday.

A season-high three teams -- the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions -- failed to sell out their home game 72 hours before kickoff, violating the NFL's blackout policy, running the league's blackout total for the season to 13 games in eight weeks and bedeviling CBS ( CBS) and News Corp's ( NWS) Fox's local affiliates. For those keeping score, that's 23% of the home markets for the league's televised games this Sunday. The St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals, meanwhile, needed an extension from the league to sell their remaining tickets. The Rams are getting really familiar with this system, as they signed on for their third extension of the season.

 Detroit Lions
Fans of the Detroit Lions join the television blackout club this week after failing to sell out a game against the Washington Redskins.

Detroit Lions fans join the blackout club this week after failing to sell out their Ford ( F) Field matchup with the Washington Redskins. It's a slight miracle this didn't happen sooner, as the Lions needed an extension to sell out a home game earlier this season against Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb's former team, the Philadephia Eagles.

It's just another indignity suffered by Lions fans who lost quarterback Matt Stafford earlier this season, endured four blackouts during a 2-14 campaign last season, an 0-16 season in 2008, 13% unemployment in Michigan (second-highest in the U.S. behind Nevada's more than 14%) and more than 14% unemployment in the Detroit metropolitan area. According to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, there are 33,000 vacant homes in Detroit and another 50,000 in foreclosure. The housing situation is so bleak that the Lions' former home, the 80,000-seat Pontiac Silverdome, sold last year for $583,000.

Now the NFL and Lions are yanking a home game off local television because those same fans won't fork over an average $62.40 for one of Ford Field's 65,000 seats or more than $365 to bring their family of four to the game, according to Team Marketing Report. In the league's and team's eyes, fans are getting a discount on tickets that cost 5% more last season and 1% more the season before. Perhaps fans would see those cuts as more of a bargain if they even came close to erasing the 12.5% price hike the team implemented before its winless 2008 season. It would also help if the team hadn't already put fans in Detroit and Wayne County on the hook for a healthy chunk of Ford Field's $430 million construction.

"If the Detroit Lions hadn't built Ford Field -- this giant facility -- and put it on the backs of taxpayers and then charged them a fortune and then blacked out their games, then maybe you would have a stronger fan base at the games," says Brian Frederick, for Washington-based advocacy group the Sports Fans Coalition. "Maybe you would have a better following and a little more enthusiasm that would result in a better product on the field."

While on-field product has been a problem during stretches of the Oakland Raiders 11-game blackout streak and the 80 blackouts of the team's 124 home games since moving back from Los Angeles in 1995, the Raiders' 59-14 drubbing of their AFC West Rival Denver Broncos makes this week's blackout a mild surprise. Sure, they haven't won more than five games in a season since 2002 and have gone 89-147 since returning to Oakland, but they are within striking distance of the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs and their first playoff spot in eight years. Oakland's economy and futility weary fan base, however, aren't making any concessions to the visiting Seattle Seahawks. Perhaps the story will be different when the Chiefs come to town in two weeks.

The Chargers, meanwhile, are starting to wish they'd scheduled a few more games against the New England Patriots, who provided San Diego with its only sellout two weeks ago. Despite gaudy offensive and defensive numbers, the Chargers are 2-5 and have blacked out three of their four home games at Qualcomm ( QCOM) Stadium this season. While Chargers fans have organized a group called Stop Charger Blackouts to keep the team on television, Frederick says the real blame for Chargers blackouts lies with team owner and America's 365th richest person (worth $1.1 billion) Alex Spanos, not fans spoiled on five straight postseason visits.

"San Diego wasn't expecting to be terrible, and then they had their first two games blacked out," Frederick says. "I haven't taken a franchise from $74 million to $907 million like Alex Spanos has. That seems like all the more reason why he would want to sacrifice short-term games for long-term development."

-- 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.