No More NFL Blackouts — At Least For One Season: Unpopular Policy Put On Hold For 2015

NFL fans will no longer have to deal with the league’s hugely unpopular policy of TV blackouts, which required that any game not sold to 85 percent capacity within 72 hours of game time be blacked out in the home team’s local market — a policy that essentially punished a team’s fans for their insufficient willingness to purchase highly-priced tickets and in many cases, endure freezing cold or rainy conditions to see their home teams in action.

The suspension of the long-standing and controversial policy was announced by the NFL on Monday, with the league saying that the blackout rules would come up for review after the season, when a decision would be made whether to ditch the policy completely, or put blackouts back in place.

The decision is an acknowledgment by the NFL that the blackout policy is a relic of another era, when the NFL was locked in tight competition with other professional sports leagues for supremacy at the turnstiles. Teams often had difficulty filling stadiums, and the blackout policy was designed to give fans no alternative but to buy a ticket.

But the NFL now has the highest average per-game attendance of any professional sports league in the world. The league draws over 68,000 fans on average to each of its 256 regular season games.

That’s almost 27,000 more than the runner-up, the German pro soccer league known as the Bundesliga, which plays 306 games.

Major League Baseball, in fifth place globally, draws about 30,500 per game — but plays more games than any other professional sports league anywhere, a whopping 2,430 regular season games each season.

In fact, in the 2014 season, the NFL did not need to impose a blackout on a single game, and only two the year before that. The NFL remains the only American pro-sports league that broadcasts all of its games via “free” over-the-air television channels.

According to figures released by the NFL, in the 1970s nearly half of all games were subject to TV blackouts. But the percentage has dropped every decade to the point where, so far in the 2010s, only five percent of NFL games have been hit with blackouts.

The new rollback of the blackouts policy may also be tied to NFL plans to broadcast games via the internet. The NFL is the only one of the five major pro sports leagues in the United States that does not offer a domestic online subscription package.

But in 2015, for the first time, the NFL will broadcast one single game on the internet. That game will be the October 25 matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars, which will be played in London, England, meaning the game would not have been subject to the blackouts policy anyway.

[Image: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]