By Matt Sabuda Chairman Sports Fans Coalition Buffalo Chapter:
Last week, Alan Pergament wrote a well reasoned piece on WNYmedia.net regarding the risks for Western New York sports fans if the FCC decides to end their blackout policy (see post). Mr. Pergament’s concerns focus around the fear that small market teams like Buffalo may have an increasingly difficult time selling tickets, putting the team in jeopardy of relocation. The nearly four decade old policy requires local television blackouts for NFL home games that aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff. To provide a fully balanced picture for fans to consider, we at the Sports Fans Coalition Buffalo Chapter want to offer a response that highlights the potential rewards.
If you are a WNY sports fan or just a Buffalo loving citizen that cares about protecting our cultural and communal assets (love them or hate them, the Bills are a communal glue that is part of who we are as Western New Yorkers), weigh in with a comment below or reach out to the Buffalo Chapter of the SFC on twitter @SFCmatt. We are meeting with Rep. Brian Higgins this week to discuss our support and to offer him your comments. Rep. Higgins is gathering opinions to submit a formal statement to the FCC before the response period ends on 2/28.
While the risks of lifting the blackout policy are potentially valid, the possible rewards can be even greater. The Bills and other entities have purchased unsold tickets in the past when games are close to sellouts. However, this practice to ensure a sellout is much more prevalent in other “large” markets across the league. This blackout motivated incentive only serves to blur the actual fan ticket sale statistics as sellouts increasingly represent less than full stadiums. The only way to eliminate the incentive for teams/media to buy unsold tickets is to remove the blackout rule. By eliminating this incentive, the Bills are well situated with their ticket prices to continue to drive fans to the stadium in similar numbers. The problem for the NFL and the benefit for WNY is that other markets, where team/media ticket purchasing is more prevalent, may suddenly be unable to demonstrate strong fan purchased ticket sales. Cities like Miami, Tampa, San Diego, St. Louis and Cincinnati among others are markets that may see more substantial fallout as far as fans buying tickets/in seats if this rule is lifted. Western New York, which is often painted as a struggling small market, despite having a combined Buffalo/Rochester metro of approximately 2.3 million people, is in a position to benefit. The fan buying base in WNY has the potential to quickly move up the charts in terms of ticket sales and actual demonstrated fan support. All while in the midst of decade plus stretch out of the playoffs.
The lifting of the blackout rule will emphasize the importance of fan oriented teams to the business model of the NFL. The league’s revenue generating model prioritizes corporate suites, premium seat licensing, and television rights. However, the NFL knows that the product/picture they are selling features the showcasing of the sometimes shirtless everyday fan representing, as ironic as this sounds, a romantic/nostalgic picture of a fan oriented game atmosphere. This featured notion of that kind of fan being the NFL’s target consumer is more of a charade. However, it’s an important charade that as a market representing this nostalgic picture, WNY can take advantage of to definitively carve out its place in the NFL’s picture going forward.
If the blackout rule is lifted and the real empty seats are revealed across the country, it can be an important contributing factor helping to protect and justify having an NFL franchise in WNY. It should also help bring ticket prices down across the country to levels that are more in line with teams like the Bills in an effort to entice fans into actually buying tickets. To weigh in, comment below, contact me on twitter @SFCmatt or reach out to Rep. Higgins through higgins.house.gov.
Sports Fans Coalition