As a team whose most recent non-sellout at home happened during the Clinton administration, the Miami Dolphins don’t appear a likely candidate to take advantage of the National Football League’s new, relaxed blackout rules that allow a game to be televised locally as long as at least 85 percent of tickets have been sold.
But the Dolphins, once one of the NFL’s most historically successful franchises, have made the playoffs just once since 2001. The Dolphins had just five losing seasons from 1968 through 2005 but have finished below .500 five times in the last six seasons, a stretch that included a 1-15 campaign in 2007. And a franchise once defined by the stability provided by Don Shula, the NFL’s all-time winningest head coach, has had seven head coaches since the start of the 2004 season, including the recently appointed Joe Philbin.
Because of their recent struggles and instability, the Dolphins’ sellout streak — they have played to 109 straight capacity crowds at Sun Life Stadium, dating back to Oct. 14, 1998 against the St. Louis Rams — is a bit more precarious than the numbers might suggest. As a result, the Dolphins won’t reveal until Thursday, August 9 — the deadline imposed by the NFL — whether or not they will implement the new blackout rules or follow the old standard in which a game must be completely sold out in order for the game to be viewed within a 75-mile radius.
“We have until Aug. 9 to make that decision,” Dolphins CEO Mike Dee told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper in a story published Friday, July 20. “We’re going to take our time given the sales momentum that we have. We’re gonna wait until the last minute to assess where we shake out with that.”
Dee told the Sun-Sentinel the Dolphins have sold more than 6,100 new season ticket packages, which makes this “…one of our best all-time offseason new season-ticket selling periods.” But last season was a challenging one from a ticketing perspective for the Dolphins, who were negatively impacted by the months-long lockout prior to training camp and then stumbled out to an 0-7 start.
The Dolphins had to buy out thousands of unsold seats in order to keep the sellout streak alive. Dee didn’t reveal the number but said it was “significantly more” than in 2010, when the Dolphins bought less than 10,000 unsold seats, and that the team thanked season-ticket holders last year by giving them additional tickets for free.
“Every year’s a different script,” Dee told the Sun-Sentinel. “This year we’re still in the midst of doing everything we can to sell the tickets organically, as I like to say.
“We’ll leave no stone unturned in our efforts to keep the games on television,” Dee said. “Hopefully that’s through the sale of tickets, not through the purchase of tickets. That’s our goal.”
If the Dolphins were to take advantage of the new blackout rules, they would have to identify a minimum amount of tickets between 85 and 100 percent. The revenue from tickets sold beyond the minimum would be split with the rest of the league.
The Dolphins will open their home schedule this season by hosting the Oakland Raiders and division rival New York Jets on Sunday, September 16 and Sunday, September 23.