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Sciria: Time for NFL blackouts of Buffalo Bills games to end

August 29, 2014
Associated Press

Buffalo Bills fans are apprehensive enough about their NFL team as the 2014 season approaches, with the team's pending sale and questions about quarterback EJ Manuel.

So the last thing Bills fans need to worry about is whether all eight of the team's home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium will sell out enabling them to be aired on local television.

Thursday night's preseason game against Detroit will be blacked out but really, does the NFL expect fans to pay full-shot ticket prices for a game that only means what fringe players make the 53-man roster? Every preseason game should air on local TV.

As should every regular season game. Last year, the Bills only had one blackout, the home finale against the Dolphins. The Bills have had at least one blackout a season for the last few years.

This outdated and anti-fan policy needs to end. A FCC commissioner has called for the end of NFL blackouts saying they're no longer needed.

That assessment is absolutely correct.

NFL teams make tens of millions of dollars from just their television contracts. They could play in an empty stadium and still be profitable, remember there's a salary cap to control player costs.

Tack on revenue from merchandising and other sources and NFL teams don't need gate receipts like they did back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

But if the NFL truly believes blackouts are necessary then there are some ways to make it fair to fans.

First, only primary television markets can be blacked out. That means if you're a Bills fan living in the Buffalo TV market, the game won't be on TV if it doesn't sell out 72 hours before kickoff.

If you live in the Rochester and Syracuse TV markets, all the games will be broadcast. Secondary markets cannot be blacked out. The Bills may have legitimate reasons why Rochester should be part of the blackout zone but none when it comes to Syracuse.

As I've been writing since 1998 when this bogus policy of including the Syracuse TV market started, it is a travesty an area more than 100 miles away from the stadium should be subject to blackouts.

The only reason why is that people in Rochester can pick up Syracuse TV signals with antennas. The original reason was that part of Yates County was within 75 miles of Orchard Park but that area is no longer part of the Syracuse TV market.

But of course the NFL wasn't going to change its policy. So no more secondary market blackouts.

Second, if more than half of the stadium is constructed using public funds (your tax dollars), no blackouts period.

There's plenty of talk of building a new stadium to replace Ralph Wilson, especially because a new owner will need to make back their nearly $1 billion investment.

If you can come up with $1 billion to buy the Bills, then you can find the cash (maybe under the seats in the private jet or limo) to build your own stadium and let tax dollars be used for better purposes like roads, police, schools and other things that most people actually need.

This is even more infuriating because more than $130 million was just spent on renovating Ralph Wilson Stadium. There were also costly upgrades back in 1998. You spend that much now and in a few years you ask for even more for a new stadium? Are you crazy?

You want to soak the taxpayer to build your new palace, then no blackouts, anywhere, from Buffalo to Syracuse. It's that simple.

Seeing a NFL game in person is a great experience but with high ticket prices, expensive parking and concessions, the average family cannot afford to go. The NFL needs to realize penalizing the average fan, especially children is not the way to ensure they grow up to cheer for their local team.

Get rid of the blackouts or make them less draconian. That's just being fair.



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