A Stones Throw 1-16-14

7

For me, the football season is almost over. With the Indianapolis Colts loss to New England (Yuck!) I look at the rest of the games – like the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl as basically being exhibition games.

Except when Peyton Manning plays – then it is real football.

With the Colts out of the playoffs, I still have a couple of serious questions for the National Football League – and those questions are not about officials or officiating. Instead, I want to ask about the NFL blackout rule – the rule that says a home-town team’s game cannot be shown on any television station within a 75 mile radius if the game is not sold out 48 hours prior to the scheduled start of the game.

This isn’t a new rule.

In fact, there are several legal challenges to this rule taking place as I write.

However, my questions are first a legal question and second an ethical question. As for the legal question, how can the National Football League dictate that those who have paid for, and often are still paying for, the home team’s stadium not be allowed to sit at home and watch the game.

In most cases taxpayers have footed most, if not all, of the bill to build – and later update – the stadium. These taxes have been justified by studies showing the positive economic impact on the City and the surrounding area not only during game weekends, but also in the overall reputation of the city.

It doesn’t really matter whether a taxpayer is a fan or not – instead of the “if you build it they will come” emphasis from the movie Field of Dreams, the current thinking is “if they build it you will pay.”

And while you pay and pay and pay, you will not be allowed to watch the local team on television if the game is not sold-out.

Why?

Even if there is a legitimate reason for enforcing the blackout rule, I think there is a better way for the NFL to show concern for fans and non-fans alike than the current process. The best case in point was Wild Card weekend – the first round of this year’s NFL playoffs.

Throughout the week prior to the games, sports stories continued to express concerns that as many as three of the four Wild Card games would be “blacked out.”

The stories varied, but the Green Bay Packers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Cincinnati Bengals each had 7000 (Colts and Bengals) to 40,000 (Packers) tickets to sell to avoid a blackout. As the deadline approached the teams were able to ask for – and receive – a 24 hour extension in order to sell the remaining tickets.

The additional 24 hours wasn’t enough – not even close.

With the blackout imminent, corporate Cincinnati, corporate Indianapolis, and corporate Green Bay came to the rescue with the purchase of tickets needed to reach sellout status (which is not truly a sellout – but that is different story).

Kroger, Meijer, Procter & Gamble, Associated Bank (Green Bay), and many other businesses to a lesser extent purchased large blocks of tickets. I don’t know what the ticket price was for these companies – I would assume they got a bulk buy deal – especially considering the desire to sell out.

However, if I take the published average price of each ticket – Green Bay at $349, Indianapolis at $203, and Cincinnati at $142 – and multiply by the estimated number of tickets purchased by various companies – Green Bay at 7,000; Indianapolis at 1,200; and Cincinnati at 3,500 – I come up with an expense of about $3.2 million.

$3.2 million in order for home-town fans to watch their team play on television on Wild Card weekend.

Even if the tickets were half-priced the cost was around $1.6 million.

While I salute the companies for coming forward in order for the blackout to be lifted – and I especially salute the companies in each city for giving the tickets they purchased to former and current military and their families, I question the National Football League’s priorities.

I wonder how many meals to the homeless could be provided by $1.6 million – or $3.2 million.

I wonder how many blankets and coats could be provided to the homeless.

Keep in mind, we were going through the coldest temperatures in over 20 years during and around Wild Card weekend.

Even if I accept the need to “sell out” or be “blacked out” – which I don’t – instead of requiring corporate America to pay blackmail to eliminate blackout, I think the NFL, its teams, and its fans would benefit more with an alternate plan.

What if the NFL’s blackout rules stated that if tickets were not sold out by the specified time, the blackout would be lifted if X number of dollars were donated to local food banks and homeless shelters on behalf of the local team.

This seems like a win – win solution.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the NFL cares about those who may not be fans – or can’t afford to be fans.

I do hope those who were cold and hungry with little or no hope for food or warmth enjoyed the games.

After all, the blackout was lifted.

– Mike Cooney