NFL Blackout, San Diego Uncertainty Jolts Chargers

SAN DIEGO (MainStreet) -- A week after the San Diego Chargers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to halt a six-game losing skid, the Jags found a way to get even.

When both teams found themselves shy of a sellouts for this weekend's home games by 5,500 seats apiece 72 hours before kickoff, the Jaguars went and got themselves a 24-hour extension from the NFL to sell their remaining tickets to Sunday's matchup with the blackout-prone Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chargers front office, meanwhile, threw up its hands after fans only bought 500 tickets in two days and allowed the NFL to black out Sunday's home tilt against the Buffalo Bills.
A week after the San Diego Chargers beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to halt a six-game losing skid, the Jags found a way to get even.

With the Chargers sitting at 5-7 and the Jags boasting a sorry 3-9 record, what's the key difference between these two squads? It isn't stability. The Jaguars just fired coach Jack Del Rio and have new ownership that hasn't committed to a future in Jacksonville. The Chargers, meanwhile, have a general manager in A.J. Smith who has allowed fan favorites to pack up and leave town without much protest and an ownership group in the Spanos family that desperately wants a new stadium San Diego is hesitant to pay for. Meanwhile both fan bases keep an eye toward Los Angeles, where plans for a NFL stadium in a major market often include whispers about moving one of these two teams west.

No, the big difference is that Jacksonville takes its blackouts a lot more personally than San Diego does. It is the league's third-smallest market and, given the $760 million price offered to new owner and moustachioed Illinois auto parts manufacturer Shahid Khan, it is also one of the league's least valuable. After a 2009 campaign that featured seven blackouts in eight home games, fans rallied and sales rose. The team and sponsors including Anheuser-Busch InBev ( BUD) also began exploiting a loophole in the NFL's blackout rule that allows franchises to buy back unsold tickets at 34 cents on the dollar.

Despite going 0-6 in all six home games this season, the Jaguars have sold out each of those games. Chargers fans and ownership, meanwhile, were content to have the team's home win against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 2 blacked out. Early season blackouts have become standard practice in sunny San Diego, where three home games at Qualcomm ( QCOM) Stadium in September and October were kept off of local CBS ( CBS) and Fox ( NWS) affiliates last season.

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There's a chance that some improved on-field product could change all that. The team sold out 48 straight games before last season largely because it made the playoff in five of the previous six years. Key components such as cornerback Antonio Cromartie and aging but durable running backs Darren Sproles and LaDanian Tomlinson were allowed to leave, but centerpiece quarterback Phillip Rivers remains.

What fans need more, however, is some assurance from the Spanos family that their team isn't heading to Los Angeles or Chula Vista anytime soon. San Diego's mayor still feels a Chargers Stadium is a priority, though perhaps not at the top of his list. The Spanos family, meanwhile, would like to see the whole matter of public funding put to a vote in 2012.

None of that is going to put a Chargers game on television in San Diego on Sunday, however, and not even the recently blacked-out Bills will have any answers for Chargers fans when they take on a home team that much of the hometown isn't seeing. Maybe Chargers fans should take blackouts as personally.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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