The NFL Blackout Policy will be at issue once again in 2010, as successful teams like the San Diego Chargers are having difficulty selling out games. The Chargers will face a blackout for the opener against Jacksonville. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has sent a letter to Commissioner Goodell this week asking the league to reconsider its position on the issue. Brown, of course, is the senator in a state that has two NFL teams and which has been hit hard by the economic problems. With the Senator now on board, the rising tide of political pressure will continue to mount, though the guess is that the NFL will bury its head in the sand until it is forced to do something.
Already, local state efforts are underway to challenge the NFL’s position. Representative Jason Holsman of Missouri has filed a bill that seeks to eliminate the blackouts for games in the state, saying “[i]t isn’t asking much of a league that benefits greatly from taxpayer subsidies to guarantee that scheduled television broadcasts of home games won’t be blacked out due to failure of the team to achieve a sellout.” Brendan Boyle of Pennsylvania has introduced a state bill that would prevent future public funding from going to a NFL team that applies the blackout policy in the Pennsylvania. San Diego coucilwoman Lori Saldana was also exploring legislation to prevent public funding from going to the league if it continued its blackout policy. It would also not surprise me if some taxpayer standing lawsuits arise, challenging the NFL’s willingness to take public taxpayer money and then not show games in the very counties that are subsidizing those stadiums, forcing fans to travel outside of the metro area to view the games.
The NFL has a long history of clinging to its blackout policies and refusing to advance with the times. In fact, the only reason that we have the current blackout policy is literally because of an act of Congress. If the NFL had their way, we would still be blacking out every game in the local markets (even sellouts) and the Super Bowl would be blacked out in the city lucky enough to host it. Back in 1972, the Washington Redskins made the playoffs for the first time in a while, and the President wanted to watch the playoff games on television. Rozelle told Nixon and his attorney general to, in essence, piss off, and Congress moved so fast that before the next season began, we had a new law requiring teams to not blackout games when they were sold out. There is a bizarre and funny story in this old Sports Illustrated article from 1973, where Eagles President Leonard Tose put for sale seats with obstructed views that no one would buy, so that the Eagles could still blackout the game, but local businessman Mickey Rubin, whose former wife was apparently getting the business from Tose, bought all the tickets and took out a full page ad in the paper in a sweet act of revenge.
The NFL preached doom and gloom then, and they will now. They know just as much now as they did then.