NFL Attendance Problem: TV Blackouts A Slap In The Face To Fans

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 03, 2014

It's Wild Card Weekend and three of the four host teams are facing blackouts.

The NFL extended the Thursday afternoon deadlines by which all tickets must be sold to Friday afternoon. As of this typing, the Bengals, Colts and Packers still haven't sold out their stadium.

As accurately pointed out by Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, this is a black eye for the league, not the host teams and cities.

No, the possibility of a blackout is not an embarrassment for the city of Indianapolis, any more than it's an embarrassment for Cincinnati or Green Bay (which has sold out every game since 1959, except for a 1983 playoff game during the strike-shortened year).

It's an embarrassment for the NFL, which continues to handle postseason tickets in a way that makes it too difficult to sell out stadiums for the country's most beloved and popular sport.

It's an embarrassment for a league that only had two blackouts all season, and hasn't had a playoff blackout since 2002.

It's an embarrassment, a black eye, for the NFL, which overprices playoff tickets.

Factor in the HD TV experience, the holidays and the fact that host teams didn't have an opponent until the final week of the season. Colts Vice President of Ticket Operations/Guest Services Larry Hall has more input: 

"This is what the league wanted: a 17th week that meant so much to so many teams. The problem is, we didn't know until halftime of the Sunday night game who we were playing and what date and time."

If the host venues don't sell out for this weekend's Wild Card round, it will be a slap in the face to the fans of the host cities. Taxpayers subsidized the stadiums in Indianapolis and Cincinnati and paid for the renovations to Lambeau Field.

So the Average Joe Taxpayer who helped fund stadiums in his home city won't get to watch the game unless he spends hundreds more dollars on a ticket. What a crock of manure.

In the summer of 2012, we wrote about the NFL's attendance problem

Here's the problem, folks: Television ratings are better than ever and overall NFL revenue is the envy of the sports world. But the league is facing big trouble at the ticket window. NFL attendance has steadily declined since peaking in 2007. It hit bottom in 2011.


The NFL must do something dramatic to bring the Great American Couch Potato back into the arena. After all, that home experience, which generates such great ratings and great revenue for the league, will lose quite a bit of its appeal if fans suddenly find themselves watching games played in silent, half-empty mausoleums.


The question is: what can the NFL do, other than lower ticket prices?

On its current path, NFL home games will be played in stadiums with simulated crowd noise and fans. At that point, what will The League do to make up for the lost revenue? 

My guess: make TV viewers pay subscription fees to offset the losses.

Maybe the NFL will try to regulate fantasy football. 

Whatever the case, the bad news for the league will in turn be worse news for fans. At least, that's the precedent the league has already set by threatening to black out home playoff games. 


UPDATE: 12:50 PM ET - The Green Bay Packers have avoided the blackout and sold out Lambeau Field.

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