Football season hasn’t even begun yet, and already the anticipation – and outrage – is in full swing. With the troubling length of player misconduct suspensions (far too short in the case of Ray Rice, far too long in the case of Josh Gordon), and the fate of beleaguered general manager Jim Irsay still hanging in the balance, there is plenty of controversy holding our attention as we await the games to begin. Under the cover of these spectacles, the NFL and the NFLPA – the union representing the players – and even the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, each quietly sent letters to the FCC asking them to table the elimination of NFL blackout policies.
In case you didn’t know, the NFL has had a policy since 1973 that games cannot be televised locally if the home stadium is not sold out 72 hours prior to its start time. (The radius for such blackouts is typically 75 miles from the site of the stadium.) For example, if the Vikings haven’t sold out their home stadium by noon on the Thursday before the game, local broadcasts cannot air the game within a 75-mile radius of TCF Bank Stadium, a geographical area that covers the entirety of the Twin Cities metro.
Last month, the FCC Commissioner, Ajit Pai, said the “time has come” to repeal the blackout rule. Pai continued, “After carefully reviewing all of the arguments, I don’t believe the government should intervene in the marketplace and help sports leagues enforce their blackout policies. Our job is to serve the public interest, not the private interests of team owners.”
The law involved here is very complicated, but the motivations are not. Blackouts allow teams to artificially increase demand for the NFL tickets. These tickets are prohibitively expensive for most people already: a family of four would have to pay between $140 and $600 for a single game, and that doesn’t include the cost of parking or concessions. There is no direct charge for a fan to watch the game on their television at home.
In the general case, this should be enough to make you angry. In the case of the Vikings, though, that feeling should be amplified by the fact that local taxpayers are providing $498 million dollars to finance the new stadium. Oddly enough, we don’t have a profit-sharing deal on ticket sales. If ticket sales flounder, local fans – who had little choice in the decision to subsidize the new downtown stadium – might be barred from watching games played at a stadium they are paying for.
The FCC is right to oppose the blackout rule. No team that is receiving public subsidies to build a new stadium should be allowed to impose blackouts against the home audience. If you feel strongly about this issue, like I do, take the time to send our senators an e-mail to let them know how you feel about this issue. You could also ask them to show support for Tom Coburn’s attempt to remove the NFL’s tax-exempt status. The NFL should have to play by the same rules as any other business: if you provide a quality product at a reasonable price, people will purchase it. Game tickets are no exception.