NFL makes right call on blackouts

The National Football League is finally getting something right, at least for the upcoming season.

During Monday’s owners’ meeting in Phoenix, the owners voted to suspend the NFL’s blackout policy for the 2015 season. That’s right, sellout or not, games will not be blocked from TV in a team’s local market.

It’s a policy that was put in place in the 1950’s for fear of losing potential ticket buyers, who might instead opt to stay home and watch games on TV. Back then games were blacked out locally, sellout or not.

The current policy, in place since 1973, says teams must reach sellout status (required number of tickets depending on venue size) 72 hours prior to kickoff or the game is blacked out locally, which extends to a 75-mile radius from the stadium.

The number of NFL blackouts have dropped over the years. According to league numbers NFL blackouts were at 40 percent in the 1980s, 31 percent in the 1990s, 8 percent in the 2000s, and 5 percent this decade. There were no blackouts this past season.

Congress has been on the NFL’s case for years to change this anti-fan policy. Not surprising, considering there’s really nothing else of importance to debate and legislate.

There must be money in it for them. Seriously, what politician will actually fight for the little people if it won’t pad their re-election fund. Please excuse my cynicism.

On the positive side of things, this is actually a good thing for the league and its fans. In certain markets that have struggled to avoid blackouts recently – Tampa Bay, Miami, Jacksonville, Oakland, St. Louis and San Diego – fans who would love to be at games but can’t afford it shouldn’t be punished. If anything, those struggling teams may be helped by airing the games.

Whether it’s the pressure applied from Congress, fans or the FCC, this no blackouts experiment is a great decision by the penny-pinching millionaires.

Of course the door is still open for a change of heart in 2016. The league will evaluate the impact of the policy following the 2015 season. Everybody knows what this means. If the owners’ wallets are weeping this change for the better will quickly be reversed. Fans be damned. For now we praise the decision. Let’s hope it becomes permanent.

See, even a cynic can be optimistic once in a while.

George Scione can be reached at 594-6520, gscione@ or @Telegraph_BigG.