The NFL is expecting to see a decrease in both single-ticket and season ticket sales this year, but for Week One of the league’s 91st campaign, at least, it has avoided the embarrassment of blacking out home games in multiple markets.
The only game that failed to sellout by the Thursday, September 9, deadline was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ home opener against the Cleveland Browns — no surprise considering the Buccaneers’ ticket woes last season and the fact the Buccaneers and Browns combined to win just eight games a year ago. As a result, the game will be blacked out on television within a 75-mile radius of Raymond James Stadium.
Blackouts are nothing new for Buccaneers fans, though not in the regular season: Both of the team’s pre-season games failed to sellout and were not televised.
At least three other teams — the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars — were able to avoid local blackouts by selling out earlier in the week. Jets executive vice president of business affairs Matt Huggins told the Associated Press that the Jets — who used to sell out Giants Stadium with ease even when the team was the NFL’s laughingstock in the early-to-mid 1990s but had to cut PSL prices to the New Meadowlands Stadium by up to 50 percent in order to move season tickets — can “…say with certainty that there will be no blackouts for the entire season.”
There are no guarantees the Rams and Jaguars will be as fortunate. The Rams’ victory total the last three seasons reads like a countdown to liftoff — 3-2-1. The Rams, who open against the Arizona Cardinals, had three home games blacked out last year.
The Jaguars, who had all but one of their home games blacked out last year, sold out their opener against the Denver Broncos, but the credit for that may end up going to the schedule maker. The Broncos’ backup quarterback and “Wildcat” option is rookie Tim Tebow, who was so popular in the Jacksonville area during his record-setting career at the University of Florida that Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver said before Tebow’s senior season that he’d like to draft him just for the boost he’d provide at the gate.
Despite the largely good news for opening weekend, expect the NFL to hold its breath next week, when the Oakland Raiders (seven blackouts last season) and Detroit Lions (four blackouts) make their home debuts, and for several weeks to come. The league endured more than twice as many blackouts last year (23) as it did in 2008 (nine) and the economy hasn’t gotten any better since the Super Bowl in February.
And while only five teams — the Jaguars, Raiders, Lions, Rams and Kansas City Chiefs — combined for those 23 blackouts a year ago, the concerns this season go beyond those markets. USA Today sent out a survey to all 32 teams asking about the possibility of blackouts and reported this week that 12 teams either did not respond, indicated they “can’t rule out blackouts” or expected to have blackouts. Only 10 teams have already sold out for the season.