Blackout season is back.
Coming off a year in which the NFL had its most blackouts since 2004, three teams are in peril of having their home openers blacked out on local television.
For whatever reason, the state of Florida has been hit the hardest in the ticket sales department thus far.
PewterReport.com is reporting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2011 season opener against Detroit will be blacked out. The number of tickets sold for the Bucs vs. Lions game on Sunday, September 11 is close to 50,000 and it is nearly impossible to expect that the team will sell 15,000 more seats by Thursday to meet the NFL-mandated 72 hours prior to kickoff time frame to lift blackouts in the local television market of home teams.
The Jags have to sell out the stadium — 50,957 tickets — at least 72 hours before kickoff for the game to be televised, according to National Football League rules. So far they’ve sold 40,103 tickets for the Titans game.
The Dolphins also plan to make it clear to their fans that tickets sales for regular-season games are not going as well as the team would like and that could mean blackouts of several meaningful regular-season games are about to happen.
Several home games on the regular-season schedule — starting with the Week 2 game against Houston — are so far from being sold out that the club is warning fans the only way to see them might be to buy tickets.
We’ve argued before that the blackout policy is unfair and ineffective, especially in a down economy. Florida was one of the states hardest hit by the recession. I’ll repeat the mantra I threw out there in a column critical of blackouts at the start of the 2009 season: If these blackouts are happening because fans don’t have the money to attend the games, why is it in any way productive to rob them of the right to at least watch on television?
In fact, I’ve argued in the past that the league’s blackout policy could cost it fans:
People choose not to go to games because they either have something else going on or because they can’t afford tickets, not because they simply prefer watching from home. The fact that the Raiders have now been blacked out seven times despite their solid season indicates that the league’s attempt to persuade fans to buy tickets with the threat of a blackout has been unsuccessful. Depriving fans that simply can’t afford to get to the stadium of being able to watch from home is liable to do more harm than good. The league’s blackout policy could end up costing it fans.
That said, the Florida attendance problem — and it’s clearly becoming a problem — is quite disconcerting.
The Buccaneers are one of the most exciting young teams in the league. That opening game against Detroit is a matchup of two talented young franchises. And yet they’re a whole 15,000 seats short of a sellout. In fact, Tampa hasn’t sold out a single home game for the 2011 season and all eight of the Bucs’ home games were blacked out last year, despite the fact the team finished 10-6. They had the second-lowest attendance average in the league.
The Jags have a chance to make a run in the AFC South after re-tooling in the offseason and the Dolphins are one of the league’s trademark franchises, but neither made the top 20 in average attendance last season. No Florida-based team has cracked the top 20 since 2008.