The Friday update: The Packers, Colts and Bengals have sold all their tickets; there will be no blackouts. See story here.
Updated at 5:15 p.m. ET with Packers, Bengals and Colts getting 24-hour deadline extensions.
The first round of the NFL playoffs begins Saturday afternoon and, as of Thursday evening, only one of the weekend’s four games is sold out, which raises the sobering prospect of TV blackouts in the teams’ local markets.
A game must be sold out 72 hours before kickoff and a playoff blackout, to say nothing of multiple blackouts, would be something of a black eye for the league, which hasn’t had a postseason game blacked out since the Jan. 10, 2002 wild-card game between the Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens in Miami. This year, three of the four host teams faced Thursday afternoon deadlines by which all tickets must be sold and, when they fell short, all three were given extensions to Friday afternoon.
So far, only the Philadelphia Eagles’ home game against the New Orleans Saints is sold out. Games in Green Bay, Cincinnati and Indianapolis are not, with the biggest surprise, of course, being that home game in Green Bay. About 3,000 tickets remain for the Packers’ home game at 4:35 p.m. Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers requested and were given an extension until Friday afternoon because, as Mike Vandermause of the Green Bay Press Gazette puts it, “the prospect of the Green Bay Packers not selling out a home game seems unthinkable.”
There are any number of logical reasons that the game has not sold out: the forecast indicates that the game may be the coldest ever at Lambeau Field (which is saying something), the Packers have the worst record (8-7-1) among playoff teams and the status of Aaron Rodgers was uncertain until a week ago. There also is, as Vandermause points out, a new, no-refund policy in which money paid will be applied to next year’s season tickets. Still, the prospect of no TV in Titletown is sobering. From Vandermause:
Is it possible that even the avid Packers fan base has reached a saturation point when it comes to following its favorite team?
In the past, the Packers could charge just about any price, whether for tickets, concessions or green and gold merchandise, and their loyal followers wouldn’t think twice about opening their wallets.
Packers devotees happily forked over millions of dollars for the right to be called team shareholders, even if in real terms they received only a valueless piece of paper.
That’s why the Packers’ struggle this week to sell out a playoff game comes as a shock and likely reverberates all the way to NFL headquarters.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals had 5,000-6,000 tickets left Thursday afternoon for their 1:05 p.m. home game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, but at least someone has offered to rescue them. Chad “Formerly Chad Ochocinco” Johnson, who played for the Bengals from 2001-10, tweeted:
— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) December 31, 2013
Still, the Bengals are hoping to meet their new 4 p.m. Friday deadline. The owner of Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse had purchased a number of tickets and urged other business owners to step up. “It would be embarrassing if the city can’t get the game sold out, but the problem is the the same people who have paid for the stadium cannot watch the game on television,” Ruby told Cincinnati.com. “When the richest sports league in the country is telling people that are not wealthy enough to purchase a ticket to go the game that they can’t watch the game, that is obscene. I have nothing against the Bengals, this is an NFL thing. If this continues, the NFL will stand for No Fans Left.”
The situation in Indianapolis, where the Colts have sold out over 100 games in a row, The Colts, who kick off the weekend with a 4:35 p.m. ET game Saturday against the Kansas City Chiefs, received an automatic 24-hour extension earlier this week because of the New Year’s Day holiday and, with about 3,000 tickets unsold Thursday, received a second extension until 4:30 Friday afternoon.
With a 24-hour reprieve, teams and their corporate sponsors are scrambling to avert an embarrassing and inconvenient blackout that would only highlight just how archaic the blackout rule has become. Only last month, the Federal Communications Commission proposed doing away with blackouts in all pro sports, an idea that was supported by Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).
“There is evidence that after nearly 40 years, the Sports Blackout Rule has outlived its relevance and utility,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement. “Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games.”
Maybe the bigger reason is that the TV viewing experience at home is so much better, as well as cheaper and warmer.
H/T Ed O’Keefe