NFL: No sellout = Blackout = No local ad revenue?

Categories: TV Sports Ratings & News

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August 31st, 2009

Wayne Friedman has a post on how lack of NFL games selling out may mean more bad news for the local markets that would've served those games:

It's bad enough TV stations are getting hammered in this still-suffering TV market. Now some may not be able to sell advertising time on one of their biggest TV properties: NFL football. That's because several markets -- Minnesota, San Diego, Jacksonville, Oakland, San Francisco, Detroit, St. Louis and Cincinnati Bengals -- may not sell out their home stadium tickets, all due to the suffering economy.

If that happens, the NFL might have to black out a number of TV games to inspire current and future home season ticket sales. The NFL has been so strong over the last few years -- in terms of TV viewers as well as stadium ticket sales -- it has been rare to see a blackout of local TV coverage.

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I'm not sure how big of a deal this really is because it's not clear how many games won't sell out.  Also, it's not clear to me how much revenue is lost.  Because I could be wrong, but I thought, that for example, if Minnesota didn't sell out a game that would've been broadcast locally by FOX, the local FOX affiliate could broadcast another "out of market" game.

If I'm wrong and no game at all can be shown, that's a different animal, but I seem to remember more than a few times where a Raiders game got blacked out, and I got to see a more marquee match-up as a result.

Here are some interesting stats via The Washington Post:

Under NFL rules, a game cannot be televised in the local market of the home team unless it is sold out 72 hours before kickoff. Last season, 247 of 256 regular season games leaguewide -- 96 percent -- aired in the local market of the home team.

That figure has been at least 95 percent in each of the last four seasons -- including a record 97 percent in the 2006 season, when 249 of 256 regular season games were televised in the home team's market.

Only general admission tickets count toward the sellout standard for a local TV blackout to be lifted, not club seats or suite tickets.

We'll see if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell changes his mind if those ratios change a lot this season.  Earlier in the year, Goodell had this to say:

"The blackout policy is a long-standing policy in the NFL. It's served us well. It's served the public well, and I do not anticipate any changes with our blackout policy."
 
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