The NFL Blackout Rule Under Review…

Yesterday, I mentioned that the NFL stadium experience – - and potentially future stadium attendance – - is coming up against competition from staying at home and watching the game on high-def and/or 3-D television. Then last evening, I ran across a report about a group called Sports Fan Coalition, which has managed to get the Federal Communications Commission to review the NFL’s blackout rules. Sports Fan Coalition is a lobbying group that represents sports fans; it created and circulated a petition that received sufficient attention within the FCC to get the FCC to seek public comment on the petition.

Sports Fan Coalition seeks to end the blackout rule which for the NFL says that if a game in a local market is not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff, the local channels in that local market may not telecast the game. It may be seen in the market of the visiting team but not in the local market. That sounds like a simple rule – - and since the rule came into being sometime in the 1970s, it was very precise with regard to what was covered. The problem now is that in 2012, NFL games are carried on satellite and cable networks in addition to over-the-air-television stations and the blackout rule now allows the league to prevent fans from seeing the local team even if they have purchased a satellite TV package that supposedly gives them access to all games.

As I understand it, the FCC is asking for comment about modifying the blackout rules as they apply to cable TV and satellite TV packages. If that understanding is correct, I am of two minds with regard to the outcome.

On the side of the blackouts, I refuse to believe that free and unfettered access to telecasts of NFL games is one of the rights guaranteed to citizens. Professional football games are staged by the NFL and therefore are the property of the NFL. If the NFL chooses not to present its product in a local market, that is not significantly different from a peanut butter manufacturer who chooses not to put his product on supermarket shelves in Buttbreath, Montana. That hypothetical peanut butter manufacturer is limiting his sales potential by that decision, but as comedian, Ron White has said:

“You can’t cure stupid…”

Having said that, games on cable TV are nationally televised events and when one purchases a satellite TV package to get access to all games the relationship between the NFL as the stager of the games and the fan as the consumer of the games is a different one. In addition, the NFL receives “benefits” from taxpayers in virtually every market in which the team operates and a subset of those taxpayers are the folks who might want to watch the local heroes when they play. I really do not know what the ultimate outcome here ought to be; I need more information.

While on the subject of the NFL and business decisions, I also read in the St Louis Post-Dispatch that the St. Louis Rams are going to play in the “London Game” in each of the next three years. Since the owner of the Rams is also the owner of the Arsenal Football Club in the English Premier League, his presence within the English sporting scene is obvious. Therefore, I guess this decision makes sense on some personal/business level. However, the opponent for the Rams in London in 2012 will be the Patriots. Now that surprises me…

If there were a game that ought to draw well in St. Louis next year, it would likely be a team like the Patriots – - a team in this year’s Super Bowl and a team that Rams’ fans do not get to see in person on a frequent basis. So, why put that game in London? Why not put a game against the Jags or the Vikings or the Texans in London to assure a good crowd for that pairing and save the Pats game as a home game? [Aside: I picked those teams out of thin air; I do not know if they are on the Rams’ schedule next season.] The “London opponents” for the Rams in 2013 and 2014 are still TBD.

In announcing the Rams’ participation in the “London Game”, Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke issued a statement, which said in part:

“This is a tremendous honor for our franchise, the city of St. Louis and our fans throughout the world. We are excited about the opportunity to reach new audiences globally. This is a great platform to showcase the city of St. Louis to London and the UK.”

I wonder if he would have said anything nearly that glowing had the Rams been able to sell out their last 100 games or so. Hmmm…

A second NBA coach has been relieved of his duties. The Washington Woefuls – - they prefer to call themselves the Wizards but all you have to do is to watch them for about five minutes to realize that “Woefuls” is more in compliance with truth-in-labeling laws – - fired Flip Saunders and named Randy Wittman as the interim coach. The Woefuls’ record as of this morning is 2-15. When Flip Saunders arrived in Washington, he had the seventh-best winning percentage of all NBA coaches; Flip Saunders ought never to be confused with Red Auerbach or Phil Jackson, but he is not a stumblebum either. The problem with the Woefuls is not the coach – - Wittman is the fourth one in just over three seasons – - the problem is the roster. The Woefuls do not share the ball; do not shoot well; do not play defense and rebound only when the ball bounces off the rim and into their hands. Other than those minor issues, the team is very good…

Tonight, the Woefuls play a home game against the Charlotte Bobcats. The Bobcats bring with them a record of 3-15. The import of this Titanic struggle is simple:

    The loser will have the worst record in the NBA Southeast Division tomorrow morning.

You know, that is a game that I would not mind having blacked out in the local TV market.

Every NBA team has a bad night occasionally. Earlier this week the Orlando Magic played the Boston Celtics; here were the Magic “accomplishments” that night:

    Scored a total of 56 points – - a franchise low.
    Made only 16 field goals – - a franchise low.
    Shot 24.6% from the floor – - recreation league teams can do that.

Finally, here is a cogent observation from Scott Ostler in the SF Chronicle:

“Trying to incorporate Keys to Victory is like the old golfer joke: I just bought a great new instruction book, ‘The 73 Most Important Things to Remember During Your Backswing.’ ”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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Comments

  • Brian  On January 25, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    Jack: Two things:

    1) I believe Ron White actually said, “You can *fix* stupid”:

    2) If the Rams are playing the Patriots next year, that means they will also be playing the other three teams in the AFC East, namely the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills, and the New York Jets.

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On January 26, 2012 at 1:20 pm

    Brian:

    You are correct – - as usual – - about Ron White’s comment on stupidity.

    Yes, the Rams would be playing the AFC East and of course the rest of the NFC West next year. That accounts for 10 of their games. Four more will come one of the other NFC divisions – - not the NFC East because they played them this year – - and two games will come against last place teams in other divisions. So you shamed me into looking at the specifics of the schedule and here is what I found:

    The Rams’ home games next year will be against the three divisional opponents plus the Bears and Lions from the NFC North, the Pats and Jets from the AFC East and the Redskins as their random NFC last-place team.

    Surely, the Pats would draw better in St. Louis than the Redskins will. The same is probably true for the Jets. Why the Rams chose to play the Pats in London instead of the Redskins is a mystery to me…

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