Washington Bullets owner Abe Pollin decided to televise last night's game against the Philadephia 76ers because of an "overwhelming response" from fans angry and apparently confused about the reasons behind the intial decision against a telecast.
The decision to televise the game at 9.30 p.m. on a delayed basis on WDCA-TV-20 was made yesterday in an attempt to achieve what Pollin considered a fair compromise between the playing public and those who could not get tickets for some reason.
The Bullets were not required by any federal law or informal policy of the National Basketball Association to televise the game, the sixth in a best four-out-of-seven series for the NBA Eastern Conference championship. The Bullets went into the game with a 3-2 edge over the 76ers.
Not knowing if the Bullets would clinch the conference in Philadelphia on Wednesday or return home to Capital Centre for a six game, Centre officials sold sixth-gamr tickets as a precautionary measure.
All but 2,000 had been snapped up by Wednesday night when Jerry Sachs, president of Capital Centre and vice president of the Bullets, appeared on a halftime show. His remarks caused confusion among some viewers.
A WDCA transcript of pertinent parts of Sachs' remarks quoted him as saying the Bullets had "held back" some tickets to the playoffs. Sachs then made a promotional pitch for prospective season ticket buyers.
He said there were "excellent" playoff seats for anyone making a $50 down payment on season tickets for next year.
When asked right afterward how many tickets were still available for a possible Friday game, Sachs said 2,000. "I think that confused some people who thought we were holding back 2,000 tickets for prospective season-ticket buyers," Sachs said yesterday.
The number of tickets earmarked for future season-ticket buyers was actually "in the range of 20 to 30 . . . This was our means of trying to capture the fans enthusiasm and translate it into future season tickets as we have done in past years," Sachs said.
Fans who called The Washington Post, WDCA and Capital Centre were angry and under the misimpression that the Bullets were "forcing" them to put down $50 to get a ticket to this year-s playoffs. Several callers also charged that the "2,000 tickets" were being withheld so the Bullets would not have to televise last nignt's game.
Whether the Bullets had withheld zero tickets or 15,000 would not have affected the televising of last night's game since it was not slated for network coverage, an NBA official said.
Complaints that the Bullets were "blacking out" the game to area viewers by withholding tickets are unfounded since there no longer is any blackout law and the one that existed applied only to network coverage, the NBA official said.
A federal law used to bar television blackouts within a 75-mile radius of home games which were sold out 72 hours in advance. That law was aimed primarily at professional football, but also covered basketball, baseball and ice hockey.
The law expired in 1975 and the National Football League, in an attempt to head off a permanent law, told Congress it would voluntarily abide by the spirit of the expired law.
The other three major sports have incorporated a similar spirit in their network broadcasting policies.
Had last night's Bullets game been scheduled for network coverage and not sold out, the club could have blacked it out in this area, the NBA official said.
The NBA official also said the association "would request" a club to lift its local blackout if the game were sold out 72 hours in advance. However, he said the club would not be required to comply with request.
The official said neither team in the final championship series can blackout any of the game telecasts.
The Bullets contract with WDCA ran out after the regular season and games are being offered to the station on a game-by-game basis, as the Bullets see fit. Because WDCA is a local station, the Bullets would not have to follow NBA guidelines on "blackouts" since the guidelines apply solely to network coverage.