Home-Market TV Blackouts Loom for NFL Wild Card Games

The NFL gave extensions until this afternoon for the home teams in three of the fourth playoff games this weekend to sell out the games or face TV blackouts in those home markets, including in the storied football town of Green Bay, Wis.

One of the wild card games--Philadelphia hosting New Orleans—was already sold out. The Indianapolis Colts game early Friday also sold out after Meijer, a team sponsor, bought the remaining 1,200 tickets to donate to military families, according to the Colts.

But the other two games that had not sold out by 72 hours before game time, which ordinarily triggers a home market TV blackout under NFL policy and FCC rules (the FCC has proposed to eliminate its blackout rules), were still not sold out and faced blackouts.

The NFL had given the home teams in those games--the Packers and Cincinnati Bengals--an extension until Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. to try to sell out the remaining tickets. An NFL spokesman said the league would not waive the policy if the teams can't fill those seats.

Cincinnati was also getting help Friday after the Cincinnati division of Kroger's also bought a "large quantity of tickets" that the team said had pushed the sell-out effort into the "red zone" (the final 20-yards before a team reaches the opponents end zone for a score).

The last playoff game to be blacked out was Baltimore vs. Miami back in January 2002, according to the NFL.

At press time, the Packers and Bengals web sites were still urging surfers to buy tickets to the game.

The FCC voted unanimously last month to lift its blackout rules, which prevent cable and satellite operators from airing a game that has been blacked out on broadcast TV due to insufficient ticket sales.

The move comes as changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether it is in the public interest to maintain the blackout, particularly at the current price of a ticket and the state of the economy, which was former acting chairwoman Mignon Clyburn's argument for teeing up the item for a vote during her busy tenure.

But the NFL opposes the move and in any event it does not affect the league's ability to write such blackout clauses into its rights deals.

A bill has been introduced in Congress that would remove the league's antitrust exemption if it did so, but that is unlikely to be passed.

The NFL has argued that there are few blackouts, it is on pace for historic lows in such blackouts, and that the blackout rule is "very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds."

(Photo credit: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.