Today, the newly formed Buffalo chapter of the Sports Fan Coalition is meeting with Rep. Brian Higgins to discuss the upcoming review of the NFL Blackout Rule by the FCC.
It has been argued that the lifting of TV blackouts will harm smaller markets like Buffalo. Matt Sabuda, chairman of the Buffalo chapter, disagrees. I’ve spoken with him over the past couple days through Twitter DM’s and email, looking for more information about the efforts he’s been heading up. After several exchanges, he provided me with the following statement to share with BillsMafia.com’s readers, as he has recently with Bleacher Report and Buffalo Rising as well.
With the debate to effectively end the NFL’s television blackout policy about to enter the halls of government, opinion makers are left to debate the risks and rewards that could accompany the policy’s demise. The nearly four decade old policy requires local television blackouts for home games that aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff. Concerns focus around the fear that small market teams like the Bills may have an increasingly difficult time selling tickets, putting the team in jeopardy of relocation.
While the risks of lifting the blackout policy are potentially valid, the possible rewards can be even greater. Under league rules, the Bills and other entities have purchased unsold tickets in the past when games are close to sellouts. However, this practice to ensure a sellout is much more prevalent in “large” markets across the league. This blackout motivated incentive only serves to blur the actual fan ticket sale statistics as sellouts increasingly represent less than full stadiums. The only way to eliminate the incentive for teams/media to buy unsold tickets is to remove the blackout rule. By eliminating this incentive, the Bills are well situated with their ticket prices to continue to drive fans to the stadium in similar numbers. The problem for the NFL and the benefit for WNY is that other markets, where team/media ticket purchasing is more prevalent, may suddenly be unable to demonstrate strong fan purchased ticket sales. Cities like Miami, Dallas and even New York among others are markets that may see more substantial fallout as far as fans buying tickets/in seats if this rule is lifted. Western New York, which is often painted as a struggling small market, despite having a combined Buffalo/Rochester metro of approximately 2.3 million people, is in a position to benefit. The fan buying base in WNY has the potential to quickly move up the charts in terms of ticket sales and actual demonstrated fan support. All while in the midst of decade plus stretch out of the playoffs.
The lifting of the blackout rule will emphasize the importance of fan oriented teams to the business model of the NFL. The league’s revenue generating model prioritizes corporate suites, premium seat licensing, and television rights. However, the NFL knows that the product/picture they are selling features the showcasing of the sometimes shirtless everyday fan representing, as ironic as this sounds, a romantic/nostalgic picture of a fan oriented game atmosphere. This featured notion of that kind of fan being the NFL’s target consumer is more of a charade. However, it’s an important charade that as a market representing this nostalgic picture, WNY can take advantage of to definitively carve out its place in the NFL’s picture going forward.
If the blackout rule is lifted and the real empty seats are revealed across the country, it can be an important contributing factor helping to protect and justify having an NFL franchise in WNY. It should also help bring ticket prices down across the country to levels that are more in line with teams like the Bills in an effort to entice fans into actually buying tickets.
If the New York Jets couldn’t sell out their 2010 home opener without the owner buying remaining seats, the Bills and their fans are well situated to look a lot more viable in WNY when the dust from real fan bought tickets settles.
They are still working on getting the local chapter’s website up and running, but in the meantime feel free to engage with them via Matt’s Twitter account, @SfcMatt.
While I cannot speak for Breyon and Leslie, this is something I feel we as Bills fans need to support. If the New York Jets really needed to have the owner buy remaining tickets for the season opener in 2010 (which was also the Jets’ first regular season game to be played in Met Life Stadium) then there’s no reason why Western New Yorkers need to be put under the microscope. Like he said, removing the blackout rule would aid in demonstrating true fan support… not to mention discontinuing the indirect punishment of the elderly and disabled who are unable to make it out to games.
I leave it to you the reader to decide if ending blackouts is a good idea, but if you agree then give Matt a follow on Twitter and take a moment to fill out the form at EndBlackouts.com.