City Desk

Sen. Sherrod Brown Brings NFL’s Blackouts Policy Back to Capitol Hill

sherrod_brown_portrait_colorBlackouts are the talk of the town!

Clearly, our nation's power brokers were moved by last week's Cheap Seats column on the history of the NFL's blackout rule: Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is now urging Commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend enforcement of his league's rule, which prevents (wink wink) games not sold out 72 hours before kickoff from being broadcast on TV in the host city.

Brown feels the blackouts should be lifted during the recession.

“Football has been a long source of pride for communities across Ohio," Brown wrote in a letter to the commish that was snail-mailed from D.C. yesterday. "It is deeply troubling that increasing blackouts could deprive families and friends the tradition of watching their beloved Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoons. I ask the NFL to examine its current television blackout policies and develop solutions that allow for franchises to remain viable businesses, while allowing fans to enjoy the game they love, both in person at the stadium or on television at home.”

“NFL blackout policies should be revisited as our nation faces the worst economic crisis in generations. During these difficult times, working families are struggling to make ends meet.  Although appealing, attending a football game is simply cost prohibitive for too many Ohioans.  The average price for an NFL game ticket is $77 – nearly ten times the hourly minimum wage.  The problem will only become worse, as 18 teams have increased ticket prices for the upcoming 2010 season.”

Brown spokesperson Lauren Kulik tells me her boss was moved to write the letter because he'd heard "a lot of talk about blackouts in Cincinnati" over the offseason.

Brown isn't the first Congressman to get involved in the NFL's broadcast policies, of course: The current blackout rule, after all, was originally put in place by Public Law 93-107, a bill passed on Capitol Hill and signed into law by President Richard Nixon just before the 1973 season began. Before then, NFL owners blacked out even sold out games, fearing that local TV broadcasts would kill the market to watch the live product. That law expired on Dec. 31, 1975, but the 72-hour rule has been enforced (wink wink) by the league voluntarily ever since.

Brown probably needn't worry about anything. Now, all the serious revenues owners get come from television, not the ticket buyers, so they want as much TV exposure as possible. NFL officials argue otherwise— "A game has to be sold out to be on TV, no exceptions," an NFL spokesman told me —but to these untrained eyes the blackouts rule appears mostly cosmetic these days. There are a bazillion loopholes in the NFL's blackouts policy that keep games on air.

There's all sorts of anecdotal evidence that the Redskins game against Dallas was not sold out in time to meet the letter of the league law, for example. But even without any intervention from Sen. Brown or Roger Goodell, Vegas is convinced that the game's gonna be on anyway.

Full letter to Commissioner Goodell after the jump.

September 9, 2010

Mr. Roger Goodell

Commissioner

National Football League

280 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Dear Commissioner Goodell:

Beginning this week, the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals will play their first game of the 2010 NFL regular season.  While fans cannot wait for the start of the season, I am concerned that supporters spanning Ohio’s small towns and urban cities will be deprived of the chance to watch the Browns and Bengals compete on television.  The NFL’s blackout policies – which require home games to be blacked out in local television markets if it is not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff – could deny Ohioans the opportunity to watch these games.

While I understand the need for the league to sell tickets and maintain an attractive television product, NFL blackout policies should be revisited as our nation faces the worst economic crisis in generations.  During these difficult times, working families are struggling to make ends meet.  Although appealing, attending a football game is simply cost prohibitive for too many Ohioans.  The average price for an NFL game ticket is $77 – nearly ten times the hourly minimum wage.  The problem will only become worse, as 18 teams have increased ticket prices for the upcoming 2010 season.

Current economic conditions, coupled with rising ticket prices, have led to a predictable rise in the number of blackouts.  Last season, the NFL blacked out 22 games, which represents a 144 percent increase from the previous season.  With overall attendance expected to decline further this year, some experts believe the NFL will black out even more games this season, and thus make it even harder for fans to watch their favorite teams.

Football has been a long source of pride for communities across Ohio.  It is deeply troubling that increasing blackouts could deprive families and friends the tradition of watching their beloved Cleveland Browns or Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoons.  I ask the NFL to examine its current television blackout policies and develop solutions that allow for franchises to remain viable businesses, while allowing fans to enjoy the game they love, both in person at the stadium or on television at home.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this matter.  I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.

Sincerely,

Sherrod Brown

United States Senator

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