When the NFL released their new blackout rules – forcing a team to sell out just 85% of its stadium capacity instead of 100% to air games on television locally, it was seen as a forward-thinking move to help fans. The relaxed blackout rules would theoretically allow most NFL teams to sell a reasonable amount of tickets and allow their own fans who can't afford the hundreds of dollars it costs to send a family to a game to watch their favorite team. It's a win-win situation, right? However, there's been a slight rub.
Only one NFL team has accepted the 85% stadium capacity threshold as opposed to the iron curtain of the 100% sell-out blackout rule. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs are the only team so far to adopt the new rule. The Colts, Chargers, Jaguars, and Bills have all publicly declared their intentions to keep the old rule in place and blackout games to their own fanbases if necessary unless they reach 100% sell-outs. The Bengals and Dolphins have yet to make a decision on the blackout threshold.
This doesn't make sense to me as a non-billionaire owner. The only potential downfall to relaxing your blackout rules as a franchise is sharing extra revenue with the visiting team beyond whatever threshold you set. For example, in using the new 85% blackout rule, Tampa Bay would have to share extra revenue with a visiting team for the extra 15% of tickets if they sold out.
Is sharing more of the pie for 15% of ticket revenue worth shutting out millions of potential fans in your television market? For everyone but the Buccaneers, the answer is an unequivocal yes.
In Buffalo, that new blackout rule would have theoretically cost the Bills $90,000 per home game if they had sold out every game at 100% capacity. $90,000. The folks in Buffalo talk about "driving additional business platforms" and facing "significant revenue losses." Chargers exects pointed to relying on tickets as a "primary revenue stream." The Colts professed a need to "protect the investments of paying customers."
It doesn't mesh with the facts of the business of the NFL.
The average NFL team is worth $1.04 BILLION dollars according to Forbes. Thanks to insanely high television revenues, the real primary source of income for the NFL, that number and incomes for each NFL team will continue to rise. After the 2013 season, the total income for the NFL from Fox, CBS, and NBC will go up by over one billion dollars to $3.1 billion per year. That's not to mention the new MNF contract that'll add another $1.9 billion.
Consider last January when the Green Bay Packers released their financial report as a publicly owned team. The team made $95.8 million in network money and $141.6 million dollars of shared revenue dollars. I'd encourage anyone really interested in this subject to read this Harvard Sports Analysis paper built off the public Packers financials and examining the business of the NFL. In 2009, the Packers made twice the amount of money from national television and radio contracts than they did local ticket revenue. All told, only 40% of Green Bay's revenue was made locally (tickets, luxury boxes, local media, sponsorship, etc.) and the other 60% came from the NFL's shared national revenue and licensing.
So roughly 60% of a team's revenue is made from shared NFL revenue, which reaches into nine figures annually. And the Buffalo Bills are telling fans they can't televise games to families who simply can't get to the stadium because of $90,000 per home game. Pathetic. It's nothing but pulling the wool over the eyes of their own fans.
Instead of these teams liberating their fanbases from a strict, out-of-touch blackout policy, these teams insist on sticking to the hard line. The Bucs and their franchise should be applauded for being the only franchise so far to actually use these new rules to benefit their entire fanbase.
And for those other franchises that have been plagued by blackout drama in the past, it just confirms what the majority of these owners are all about. When it comes to choosing to protect their bottom dollar or help their own fans, you'll know where their heart lies.