Some NFL Teams May Face TV Blackouts Because of Lagging Ticket Sales

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 28, 2009

Sold-out stadiums have been the norm in the NFL in recent seasons, so commonplace that games blacked out on local television in the home team's market for failing to sell out have been rare.

That could change this season as some franchises experience difficulty selling tickets in an uncertain economy. With the regular season set to begin in two weeks, at least four teams face potential local TV blackouts of their home games because they have not sold enough tickets, according to people involved in the league.

The NFL as a whole continues to operate successfully, thanks in large part to the league having negotiated extensions to its national television deals that pay each team about $125 million a year. However, Commissioner Roger Goodell and others in the sport acknowledge that the league is not immune from the country's economic problems, and they point to lagging ticket sales among some of the league's 32 franchises as evidence.

People in the sport say locally generated revenue may be down for some clubs this year. The Dallas Cowboys, for example, have yet to sell the naming rights for their new $1.15 billion stadium.

"We're still in the middle of selling" tickets, Goodell said last week after a one-day owners meeting at an O'Hare International Airport hotel outside Chicago. "Clubs are working hard at it. We recognize what our fans are going through. There are challenges out there, but I think our clubs are responding very well. We've still got a few more good weeks of selling."

Goodell said he was unable to provide leaguewide figures for ticket sales. "That can change very quickly, as you know," he said. "Just look at what Minnesota did."

The Vikings sold approximately 3,000 season tickets and 10,000 single-game tickets in the 24 hours after they signed quarterback Brett Favre last week. According to the club, that left the Vikings with about 7,000 season tickets still available.

"It's been a tremendous boost," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said. "We certainly have a way to go. But our organization is very excited for our fans. They showed it in the last couple days, and we look forward to our fans getting more involved."

But what was more surprising -- that the Vikings sold so many tickets after acquiring Favre, or that they had so many tickets available before signing him?

People familiar with the situation said that teams in strong markets have had to work harder than usual in some cases but have experienced few major problems selling tickets. But they also said that at least four franchises are in danger of having a significant number of their home games fail to sell out. Some estimated that number could be as high as eight clubs, although people who said that added that several of those teams are likely to find ways to secure sellouts.

"If you're in a good market, you most likely did okay," said one team owner, who did not want his name used because it is considered inappropriate within the league for one team owner to speak publicly about other clubs' financial situations. "The NFL is still a good buy. But there are a few markets out there that aren't very good, and I think they're having some problems."

In addition to Minnesota, the teams having trouble selling tickets include the San Diego Chargers and Jacksonville Jaguars. The list of teams with ticket-selling issues also could include the Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Detroit Lions and possibly the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals. Thursday night's preseason game in Cincinnati and Saturday's games in Detroit and Oakland are blacked out on local TV.

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