Bills Suffer from Blackout Rules
By Jo E. Prout
Archaic television blackout rules hinder the sport of modern-day football, and fans need look nowhere else than the Buffalo Bills to find a prime example. The first home game for the Bills in preseason fell prey to the blackout rule that has defined game availability since the days of black-and-white television.
The blackout rule has drawn attention from media outlets for the past year after Arizona Sen. John McCain tried to ban the blackout for publicly-owned stadiums. McCain’s claim that taxpayers should not be penalized for an unfilled stadium went head-on against the blackout rule, which was originally intended to force fans to buy tickets, but is linked to television advertising contracts. Last year, some NFL teams relaxed the rules by paying more revenue to visiting teams – a fiscal homage to the reality of Big Business Football.
Why should the Bills spearhead change within a league that claims it is making money with an outdated rule? The Bills are suffering, plain and simple. Not only have the Bills had a streak of down years on the playing field, but their shrinking fan base is spread over western New York, and the degree of spread is significant: Kid’s Appreciation Day in the Bills’ home stadium was only “appreciated” by the few parents who could drive out to Buffalo. Thanks to those archaic blackout rules, fans in New York State had to choose to drive up to 9 hours to see the Bills because the stadium did not sell out. Kids in Albany, a full six hours away, could not get there or watch the game. Those kids caught the New York Giants and the New England Patriots games, instead.
Other potential fans, who live in beleaguered and financially-depressed western New York, may have looked at the NFL’s ticket prices, and stayed home.
Kids should be the league’s major priority. With a passion for the game, fueled by either televised accessibility unhindered by geography or lowered ticket prices, kids can influence their parents’ and their grandparents’ spending before growing up into adults with wallets of their own. The league might find that an investment now of further relaxing the blackout rule, or a combination of rule enforcement tied to discounted prices, could grow its franchises by leaps and bounds. The NFL has tried to reduce the blackout rate before, but it is time for franchises like the Buffalo Bills to step forward and bring NFL football into the digital age. The Bills' future depends on it.