According to an article from the Wall Street Journal, NFL owners have passed a resolution that will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games to continue when as few as 85% of available tickets are sold. Prior to the resolution, teams were forced to sellout or face getting blacked-out.
Notwithstanding, the NFL has continually “looked the other way” in its enforcement of the blackout policy based on the circumstances involved (see the Washington Redskins in a few minutes).
The existing NFL blackout rule evolved from the idea that showing football games on television locally would reduce the number of fans in attendance. In fact, in the 1960s, NFL games were blacked out within a 75-mile radius of the stadium to “protect” the home audience.
This way of thinking put the focus on “butts in the bleachers” rather than on television revenue. Of course, as the NFL grew and the fan base rapidly increased, it wasn’t long before the thing the NFL had feared—fewer “butts in the bleachers”—instead made them a multi-billion dollar business.
Today, television revenue is the lifeblood of the NFL (coffee, however, remains the lifeblood that drives the dream of champions), and it casts a sometimes ominous shadow over the importance of stadium attendance.
Nevertheless, the league is continuing to look at ways to give fans an incentive to come out to the stadium and watch their home team in person . . .
Negotiations are currently under way for league-wide free Wi-Fi for fans inside stadiums. The NFL also intends to place microphones on certain players, so fans will be able to hear on-field commentary through a smartphone app that is currently in the works.
. . . It’s unclear whether the app’s functionality on game-day will somehow be limited to only fans inside the stadium.
The new 85% rule will now actually allow teams to set their own blackout restrictions, provided they stay at or above 85%. In order to keep teams from simply setting their limit at the bare minimum, the NFL will increase the amount of money given to the visiting team for every ticket sold above the set percentage.
NFL teams currently pay the visiting team 34 cents on the dollar for every ticket sold to each home game. So, for example, if the Bears set their minimum at 85% (they won’t—more on that in a minute), and they sold 100% of their tickets, they would now have to pay the visiting team 50 cents on the dollar (instead of 34 cents) for the additional 15% sold.
Soldier Field’ seating capacity is 61,500; 15% is 9,225. Say, for example, those tickets sell for $100 each, instead of paying the visiting team $34 bucks (remember: 34 cents on the dollar) for each of those 9,225 tickets ($313,650), they would have to pay $50 bucks for each ($461,250), a difference of $147,600 dollars. Hence, why the Bears will set a reasonable limit.
But, when you consider a team like the Washington Redskins, for another example, whose stadium capacity is 91,704, it quickly becomes clear where the issue lies with the NFL’s formula.
In the chart below, the Bears are ranked as the fifth bestselling team in the league in 2011 based on seating capacity percentage sold. The Redskins, on the other hand, are ranked 30th out of 32. And yet, Washington outsold Chicago in number of tickets last season by nearly 120,000.
Despite the high number of ticket sales in 2011, the Redskins still only reached 83.9% of available tickets sold.
Dan Snyder has repeatedly stated in Redskins’ press releases that games have been sold-out since 1966. It’s a flat-out lie. The Skins haven’t actually sold out a single home game since Snyder has owned the team.
The NFL, likely and largely due to the Skins’ specific circumstances, has not enforced the blackout rule for Washington in past years (spirit of the law, not letter of the law, I always say), and so one has to wonder if, with this new percentage, they’ll have to.
Also, many times, team owners and sponsors will buy up remaining tickets at a reduced price to, technically, keep from being blacked out.
Then the question is, should the Redskins—a wildly popular franchise—be penalized for having a higher seating capacity than the market can realistically fill? If I’m Dan Snyder, I’m remodeling and conveniently ripping out about 15,000 seats should I start being penalized!
So, while the Bears have ranked near the top-5 in capacity-based percentage sales for a long time, it’s not exactly fair to assume it’s because we’re “just so great here in Chicago.” Mostly, it’s because our stadium has the lowest seating capacity in the NFL.
But that doesn’t really tell the whole tale either. Because while the Bears have the seventh lowest average attendance in the NFL (not holding that against them—seating capacity, remember), they also have the fifth highest average ticket price (according to seatgeek.com) at around $178 bucks.
So it’s safe to assume that if Soldier Field held more fans than it does currently, more fans would show up. But there would quickly come a point of diminishing return. For Bears fans, and the team, it’s probably one of the biggest positives to having a stadium the size of Soldier Field.
The Cincinnati Bengals, on the opposite side of the spectrum, have been blacked out continually over the years and continue to struggle to put “butts in the bleachers” despite the league’s fourth lowest average ticket price (again, according to seatgeek.com) of $42.31.
Here’s the 2011 breakdown:
|Team||Total Attendance||Average Attendance||Stadium||Stadium Capacity||Avg as % of Capacity*|
|New Orleans Saints||584,335||73,041||Superdome||68,000||107.4|
|Dallas Cowboys||684,096||85,512||Cowboys Stadium||80,000||106.9|
|Philadelphia Eagles||553,152||69,144||Lincoln Financial Field||67,594||102.3|
|Indianapolis Colts||518,627||64,828||Lucas Oil Stadium||63,500||102.1|
|Chicago Bears||497,166||62,145||Soldier Field||61,500||101.0|
|Houston Texans||571,969||71,496||Reliant Stadium||71,054||100.6|
|Baltimore Ravens||569,792||71,224||M&T Bank Stadium||71,008||100.3|
|Tennessee Titans||553,144||69,143||LP Field||69,134||100.0|
|New England Patriots||550,048||68,756||Gillette Stadium||68,756||100.0|
|San Francisco 49ers||557,856||69,732||Candlestick Park||69,732||100.0|
|Seattle Seahawks||531,311||66,413||CenturyLink Field||67,000||99.1|
|Denver Broncos||602,618||75,327||Mile High||76,125||99.0|
|Detroit Lions||509,940||63,742||Ford Field||64,500||98.8|
|Carolina Panthers||578,342||72,292||Bank of America Stadium||73,504||98.4|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||504,279||63,034||Heinz Field||65,050||96.9|
|Atlanta Falcons||551,892||68,986||Georgia Dome||71,228||96.9|
|Green Bay Packers||564,097||70,512||Lambeau Field||72,928||96.7|
|New York Giants||635,800||79,475||MetLife Stadium||82,500||96.3|
|New York Jets||631,888||78,986||MetLife Stadium||82,500||95.7|
|Arizona Cardinals||489,455||61,181||University of Phoenix Stadium||65,000||94.1|
|Oakland Raiders||473,938||59,242||O.co Coliseum||63,132||93.8|
|San Diego Chargers||523,143||65,392||Qualcomm Stadium||70,000||93.4|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||498,655||62,331||EverBank Field||67,164||92.8|
|Kansas City Chiefs||576,659||72,082||Arrowhead Stadium||79,451||90.7|
|Cleveland Browns||526,874||65,859||Cleveland Browns Stadium||73,300||89.8|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||396,300||56,614||Raymond James Stadium||65,908||85.9|
|St. Louis Rams||451,153||56,394||Edward Jones Dome||66,000||85.4|
|Buffalo Bills||438,864||62,694||Ralph Wilson Stadium||73,967||84.8|
|Washington Redskins||615,368||76,921||FedEx Field||91,704||83.9|
|Miami Dolphins||487,089||60,886||Sun Life Stadium||75,192||81.0|
|Cincinnati Bengals||394,009||49,251||Paul Brown Stadium||65,515||75.2|
Six of the Cincinnati Bengals’ seven home games last season were blacked out locally. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown spoke out on the blackout policy then:
“The NFL’s blackout policy is unnecessary,” Brown said. “The NFL is poised to earn record profits while the Cincinnati taxpayers, who built the stadium, will be watching reruns rather than touchdown runs. The rule is an outdated relic that doesn’t serve the NFL or the fans.”
Even the new flexible blackout policy will not serve to help the Bengals if they can’t figure out how to get fans out to the stadium (here’s an idea: win something), seeing as their average capacity percentage sold in 2011 was just 75.2%.
Filed under: NFL