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Tired of sitting on your hands regarding the Bills’ future and TV blackouts, get involved.

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.
Matt Sabuda
Chairman
Sports Fans Coalition
Buffalo Chapter

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Written by Buffalo Rising

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5757 posts
  • tommyJ

    Nope, I could honestly care less about the bills.

  • Ozro

    But I’m guessing since you are reading this blog that you care about Buffalo. Say what you want, they are important to the area as far as perception and emotion. Their long term future is important.

  • benfranklin

    I’m a fan of the team, and the area, and would prefer they stay.
    That being said, if a reasonable person had 800 million dollars sitting on a table in front of them (it’s a big table), and was told, you can invest this in WNY, or invest it into the Bills, which would do the greater good for the community?
    The experience of viewing a game at home will only improve. That’s not just an issue in WNY, but league wide (and the reason Jerry Jones put a massive screen across his field).
    The question won’t just be if someone in WNY has the ability to do this. The second question will be, does a person in WNY have the funds, and believe the NFL is a good investment.

  • Frostbelt

    If the Bills ever leave Buffalo…
    Buffalo is dead to me. Aside from the Sabres… the Bills are the only reason I’m proud of this city. They bring us together.
    Sounds immature but its the truth. Without the Bills – this city would be irrelevant.

  • nick

    Without the sports teams Buffalo is Toledo…

  • suburban_hillbilly

    A looming blackout never served as a stimulus for me to buy tickets. I buy tickets when I have a reasonable expectation of the game being a good one. Be relevant in December and games will sell out. Come hell or high water, if the Bills could make it past Thanksgiving and still be in the playoff hunt, fans will fill the stadium. The Buffa-ronto-chester Bills have a huge fan base that wants to drink beer, hang out with friends, and cheer for their team. Luckily for us we have pleanty of beer and pleanty of friends…now if they could just do something about that whole “being competitive” thing.

  • Matt Sabuda SFC

    Ben, we appreciate your feedback. With the TV driven revenue model of the NFL, having a team in WNY is a comparable investment to having a team in almost any other city nationwide. Also, if you had $800 million, it would be a very good investment as history has shown. It would be an even better investment if the anti-small market policies like TV blackouts were lifted.
    The NFL has done a masterful job of claiming that they defend small markets with policies such as TV blackouts. The reality is that policies like blackouts only allow the league to propagate their created boogie man that small markets are in danger when the policy actually hurts them by keeping ticket prices higher than demand dictates in all markets, large and small.
    Once the blackout policy is lifted, the fallout the league would see would level the playing field, likely bring down ticket prices across the league and allow all markets, large and small to thrive on the actual demand, not the one created by a policy.

  • Matt Sabuda SFC

    Interesting you say that it the blackout policy isn’t a stimulus to buy tickets. Check out this report by top sports economists submitted to the FCC that pretty much confirms your point.
    http://sportsfans.org/2012/02/top-sports-economists-destroy-nfls-claims-“blackouts-have-no-significant-effect-on-ticket-sales-in-the-nfl”/

  • chetroia

    Forget football and the stupid tbow stupid touchdown ghetto dances and the Bills its about MMA and if NY State would get off their ass they would leagalize it again like it was in early 90’s so they can utilize the Aud for that and collect taxes and get some real entertainment in the city.

  • suburban_hillbilly

    Cool. Thanks for the info.

  • whatever

    This isn’t something the Congress or the FCC should meddle in, regardless of whether or not blackouts affect ticket sales – which is difficult if not impossible to know for sure anyway.
    Let businesses decide if and when their intellectual property is broadcast and where.
    By the way – why try to single out the NFL for this?
    Why not also demand that all Sabres games be on free TV, legally forced by government? All NHL, NBA, NCAA, MLB? Boxing, fake wrestling, and MMA should all have to be on free TV too? Why? Many of those happen in publicly-funded facilities also, for better or worse.
    And other than sports, how about all music, theater, or comedy shows at publicly-funded Shea’s, or all concerts in HSBC/FNC arena – all of those should be legally forced by govt to be shown live on some free TV channel? Really?
    Leave it up to the NFL and other businesses to decide if and when their products are offered on free TV, standard cable, pay-per-view, live, replay, internet, etc, – or none of those.

  • rb09

    Buffalo without the Bills is no longer known as “Buffalo”, it becomes Buffalo, NY…

  • Matt Sabuda SFC

    Actually it is the other way around. The blackout policy is a government protection/regulation for the leagues. The government is meddling by giving sports leagues like the NFL and MLB antitrust exemptions that virtually no other businesses receive. So ‘whatever’ I agree, the government shouldn’t meddle. They should stay out of sports, remove these regulations and anti trust protections that make no sense and let the market take its course in regard to blackouts and a number of other regulatory issues in which leagues are being shielded. Any thoughts?

  • whatever

    matt>”Any thoughts?”
    From your website
    “The Sports Blackout Rule prevents fans from seeing a home game when the local stadium doesn’t sell out. Specifically, it says that if the league tells a local broadcaster to black out a game because tickets didn’t sell out, fans are not allowed to watch that game any other way.”
    Where you at end of that wrote “fans are not allowed to watch that game any other way”, my thoughts are the allowing (or lack) should be 100% a decision of the NFL. Games are their intellectual property and theirs alone.
    If FCC removes itself from this in some way that leaves it totally up to the NFL as to if, when, and where geographically each of its games are shown, then I’d have no problem with it. I just don’t think that’s what you’re aiming for. You can correct me if I’m misunderstanding.
    If it were up to the NFL as it should be, I doubt they would show more non-sellouts on TV in the home markets.
    The anti-trust exemption should be ended no matter what. But if it isn’t ended, trying to use that as a justification to limit full control over broadcast rights doesn’t seem like something the federal govt should be doing. Two wrongs don’t make a right.