Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27), Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (CT) sent a letter to the Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Roger Goodell, with concerns about the recently-announced change to the television blackout policy.
Earlier this month, the NFL announced the adoption of a new policy that would allow teams to lift local blackouts if at least 85 percent of seats are filled within 72 hours of kickoff. This overturns a longtime requirement that the stadium be filled to capacity before local television blackouts could be lifted.
However, the new policy also included a punitive portion that requires teams to forgo a significant portion of revenue from tickets sold over the 85 percent threshold. In their letter, Congressman Higgins and Senators Brown and Blumenthal asked the NFL to either drop completely or amend this section of the policy. They argue that this provision may deter team owners from choosing to opt-in to the new blackout policy and suggested an alternative approach to the waivers.
"We applaud the NFL's decision to address its decades old, anachronistic and anti-fan blackout policy; we only ask that it go a little further in making the policy one that teams are free to embrace," wrote Higgins, Brown and Blumenthal.
"I am grateful that the NFL has taken the first step toward making its blackout policy more fan-friendly," said Congressman Higgins, "but this should be a beginning and not an end. The next logical step is to refine the policy to create the best chances for the teams to actually opt-in and implement the new blackout policy. We need to move toward a policy where both the team and the fans are winners. "
"The NFL's new policy is an important step in addressing the outdated blackout policy, but it should not punish teams who do right by their fans," Brown said. "Waivers would provide teams flexibility to air games without being financially penalized."
Senator Blumenthal said, "I welcome the NFL's decision to modify its policy on blackouts by giving team owners the option to locally broadcast games even when they are not sold out. However, the NFL needs to amend the punitive portion of the new policy so teams will not be penalized financially for opting in. I will continue to give sports fans in Connecticut and across the nation a voice by working to prevent industry abuses like blackouts. Fans should be able to root for and watch their favorite teams even when they cannot attend in person."
"Along with members of Congress, we at Buffalo Fan Alliance applaud the NFL for their willingness to change, said Matt Sabuda, President of the Buffalo Fan Alliance. We hope that the NFL continues their reevaluation of the blackout policy to include the proposed waiver amendment. It would give all markets the flexibility to address both ticket selling strategies and television accessibility for fans on a game to game basis without the risk of lost revenue for an entire season. A more flexible strategy that recognizes the unique differences across NFL markets would certainly be another step in the right direction."
Higgins, Brown, and Blumenthal have all been outspoken advocates for a change to the NFL's blackout policy and were recently recognized by the Sports Fan Coalition for their efforts on behalf of fans.
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Commissioner Goodell:
We applaud the decision of the NFL to adopt a new policy that will allow teams to lift the local blackout of television broadcasts if at least 85% of nonpremium seats are sold within 72 hours of kickoff. That the League recognizes the blackout rule is outdated and in need of rethinking is a step in the right direction.
However we have serious concerns that the second part of this new policy, which requires teams to forgo a significant portion of revenue from tickets sold over the 85% threshold, dissuades teams from trying this new policy. This punitive policy creates undue tension between the twin goals of ensuring loyal fans can watch at home and endeavoring to sell as many tickets as possible above the threshold. For example, a team that routinely sells out its games early in the season but that might like to lift blackouts on its December games that are not sold out might consider adopting the policy but for the penalty it would incur on the tickets sold to the early season games above the 85% threshold.
With this concern in mind we respectfully urge the NFL to amend the rule by dropping the punitive portion regarding revenue from tickets sold above the 85% threshold. If simply dropping the section is not acceptable, we suggest an alternative amendment. For teams that decide not to opt-in to the new policy for a full season, each team should be allowed two waivers of the local blackout policy per year, which could be activated no sooner than 72 hours before kickoff. The last minute nature of the waiver and the limitation of two waivers would support demand for ticket sales throughout the season, and would allow teams the flexibility to evaluate the decision to lift the blackout on a game by game basis. Further, the lack of a punitive penalty would ensure that it is in the team's best financial interests to attempt to sell as many tickets as possible to those games.
Football fans are some of the most loyal in the nation, contributing billions of dollars in revenue to the League and countless local businesses. We do not believe it was the League's intent to devise a policy that financially punishes teams who elect to make their product available to all fans, who have subsidized the construction and maintenance of 30 of the NFL's 31 stadiums with their tax dollars. That is why we respectfully urge you to amend the rule to create greater flexibility to ensure small and midsized market teams are not unfairly penalized for rewarding loyal fans with local broadcasts while promoting and maximizing game day attendance.
The value of the League was indisputably and substantially enhanced by televising games. Many of the nation's top economists have concluded that local television blackouts have little or no effect on ticket sales, and even found that local blackouts harm consumers without producing a significant financial benefit to teams. As an estimated 60% of the League's revenue is generated from game broadcasts, and only 20% from ticket sales, this new policy demonstrates that the League understands the changing realities of sports economics in the 21st century. We applaud the NFL's decision to address its decades old, anachronistic and anti-fan blackout policy; we only ask that it go a little further in making the policy one that teams are free to embrace.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.