Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Are You Ready For Some ........ Blackouts?

USATODAY - If the economy is slowly rebounding, ticket sales for many NFL teams have yet to take the corresponding bounce for the upcoming season.

Two teams — the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars— say it's likely they will have home TV blackouts this season due to an inability to sell out their stadiums. At least 10 other teams could also face blackouts.

The Jaguars, in the northern Florida economy that was hit hard by the housing crunch, are bracing for a worst-case scenario in which all eight of their home games fail to sell out. NFL rules require local TV blackouts for any games that fail to sell out 72 hours prior to kickoff. That blackout also extends to DirecTV's premium package. There were nine such blackouts league-wide last season.

"People are having it tough down here," Jaguars senior VP of business development Tim Connolly said. "People are watching their dollars and they're being tighter than ever."

During a visit to the Washington Redskins on Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked specifically about the Jaguars, whose season-ticket base dropped from 42,000 to about 25,000 this season. The decline is such that the club might not even bother asking for extensions in hopes of avoiding blackouts this year.

Goodell said Jacksonville, one of the smallest markets in the league, is "one of the markets where we're seeing some challenges from ticket sales coming into the 2009 season."

"And we'll have other markets that'll have those challenges. It's all part of the challenges that we're seeing in the economy, and what our clubs are going through," Goodell said. "Our clubs have been working hard in the offseason to create other ways to try to get people in the stadiums and to have policies that are a little more flexible, and hopefully they're going to pay dividends for us."

At least 12 teams, including stalwart franchises such as the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New York Giants and Redskins, have sold out stadiums for the season. Twenty-four teams kept their 2009 ticket prices steady with last season.

Chargers COO Jim Steeg, after acknowledging earlier this month that "blackouts are likely," even for the defending AFC West champs, said his organization will "think outside the box and pull out all the stops" in sales efforts.

The sluggish economy, poor performance in recent seasons and the high cost of tickets (which averaged more than $72 last season) all can contribute to slow ticket sales, said David Carter, a sports business professor at USC. "You add those things up," Carter said, "and it results in empty seats for those teams that don't have a compelling offering."

The demand for tickets in some cities has resisted the down economy. The Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers have sellout streaks that date back to the 1970s, and fans who cancel their season tickets would quickly be replaced by those on a waiting list. But in cities where there's less demand, there's less pressure to prioritize spending on tickets.

Connolly said fans are "taking a breather" from anything that's not essential to their budgets. "There are a lot of people saying, 'Well we're a year away,' " he said, "and they'll put off this purchase."

BLACKOUT FORECAST: Blackout prognosis for all 32 NFL teams below the fold.

Blackout forecast: Teams' outlook for potential TV blackout of home games in 2009

• Arizona Cardinals: Too early to tell. Sold out all regular-season games in three-year history of University of Phoenix Stadium.

• Atlanta Falcons: Anticipate all eight games sold out.

• Baltimore Ravens: Sold out all eight games.

• Buffalo Bills: Four sold out. Anticipate all seven games sold out by early October. (Does not include Dec. 3 game in Toronto.)

• Carolina Panthers: Blackouts unlikely.

• Chicago Bears: Anticipate all eight games sold out.

• Cincinnati Bengals: Too early to tell. "Hopeful of selling out the entire schedule," spokesman Jack Brennan said by e-mail. Have had 44 consecutive sellouts, but did not sell out first preseason home game.

• Cleveland Browns: Too early to tell. Have sold out four games.

• Dallas Cowboys: No blackouts expected as they open new stadium.

• Denver Broncos: Sold out all eight games.

• Detroit Lions: Too early to tell. Had five blackouts last season.

• Green Bay Packers: Sold out all eight games.

• Houston Texans: Sold out all eight games.

• Indianapolis Colts: Sold out all eight games.

• Jacksonville Jaguars: Blackouts are likely. Team spokesman Dan Edwards said by e-mail they are "not certain how many."

• Kansas City Chiefs: Spokesman Bob Moore said by e-mail they don't expect any blackouts "at this time." They have sold out 149 consecutive regular-season and playoff games.

• Miami Dolphins: Spokesman Harvey Greene said by e-mail they don't expect blackouts, but he was unable to rule them out. Said Green, "We are working hard to insure all our home games are televised locally."

• Minnesota Vikings: Too early to tell.

• New York Giants: Sold out all eight games.

• New York Jets: Anticipate all eight games sold out.

• New England Patriots: Sold out all eight games.

• New Orleans Saints: Sold out all eight games.

• Oakland Raiders: Too early to tell. Had two blackouts last year and Saturday's preseason game was blacked out.

• Philadelphia Eagles: Sold out all eight games.

• Pittsburgh Steelers: Sold out all eight games.

• San Diego Chargers: Team COO Jim Steeg said in early August that "blackouts are likely."

• San Francisco 49ers: Declined to share details of ticket sales.

• Seattle Seahawks: Sold out all eight games.

• St. Louis Rams: Had two blackouts last year. Spokesman Ted Crews said the team is "focused on selling out all our games" and will release details on a week-by-week basis.

• Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Too early to tell. Spokesman Jeff Kamis said the team is "hopeful there will be no blackouts." (Does not include Oct. 25 game in London.)

• Tennessee Titans: Sold out all eight games.

• Washington Redskins: Sold out all eight games.