It’s no secret that attendance has been a major issue concerning the three NFL franchises in the Sunshine State. Although Tampa Bay has been the only team with “official” television blackouts over the last two seasons, both Miami and Jacksonville also struggle with ticket sales.
Although sellouts are the goal with the three teams, simply meeting the blackout number to get games televised locally has been considered acceptable. The Jaguars haven’t had a blackout in nearly three seasons and although large percentages of Sun Life Stadium in Miami have been occupied as visiting fans and empty seats, the Dolphins can also “boast” no blackouts.
It appears that meeting the blackout number and getting the games on television will be easier for each NFL team this upcoming season.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the NFL is “watering down” or “softening” their blackout rules.
“Team owners have passed a resolution that starting this season will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games even when as few as 85 percent of tickets are sold. Under the new rule, each team has more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85 percent or higher. To discourage teams from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it.”
According to ESPN.com’s attendance figures which may or may not be 100 percent accurate, only three teams failed to reach 85 percent in home attendance. Those teams are Washington, Miami and Cincinnati. Tampa Bay finished 28th in attendance percentage (86.2 percent) while Jacksonville finished 24th (92.8 percent).
In overall home attendance in 2011, Jacksonville finished 25th (62,331 per game), Miami was 28th (60,886 per game) and Tampa Bay was 30th (56,614 per game).
Lowering the attendance figure to help avoid blackouts could affect ticket sales one of two ways. Either it will expand these particular fanbases to a marketplace which hasn’t seen them recently which could lead to more ticket buyers from an increased number of viewers. The adverse effect could be that fans get too used to watching the games from home and with the television experience at an all-time best fans may not go to the stadium. This has occurred with Tampa Bay most recently as ownership bought up tickets for roughly three years to avoid blackouts which has led to the current problem.
“The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn’t,” Eric Grubman, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Ventures and Business Operations said per the Wall Street Journal. “That’s a trend that we’ve got to do something about.”
Although Jacksonville is ahead of last year’s ticket pace, complete sellouts aren’t expected for every game in 2012. Each of the three Florida teams and others around the league are going to have to make a decision whether or not keeping the games on television will ultimately help the long-term future and sell tickets. The reduction of the blackout number by the NFL simply allows teams another tool in doing what they feel is best for their franchises.
Charlie Bernstein is the NFL Insider for SportsTalkFlorida.com and ESPN 1080 and 1040 in Orlando/Tampa and Editor-in-Chief of Sports Media Interactive, covering the National Football League, NCAA, and National Basketball Association. Charlie covers the Jacksonville Jaguars for FoxSports and has been featured on the NFL Network and Sirius NFL Radio. Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Charlie on Twitter @nflcharlie