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Blackout loophole could give union some labor leverage

Last year, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers somehow were able to consistently avoid local blackouts of their home games despite the fact that Raymond James Stadium often featured a sea of red seats in the upper reaches of the venue.

Now that the Jets are facing the possibility of unsold PSLs -- and the customer-relations challenges inherent to dumping the PSL obligation for seats in the vicinity of seats for which the PSL already has been bought and paid for -- Neil Best of Newsday has identified the silver bullet that a team can utilize in order to ensure that the three-hour infomercial will air on local television.

His article explaining the dynamic is trapped behind a pay wall, but Best has spoken about the loophole to the folks at

“I was not aware of this until this week, frankly, and several prominent,
experienced people I know in pro football were not aware of it either,” Best said. “But, sure enough, it turns out a team can cut a check for 34 percent of
the face value
of unsold tickets to cover the visiting team share and,
presto, problem solved!”

If that’s the case, it puts those breathless efforts to sell remaining tickets via an extension of the 72-hour deadline a little ridiculous. Let’s say 5,000 tickets are unsold with 72 hours to go and the home team has finagled a 24-hour extension to sell the seats. And let’s also assume the average price of the unsold tickets is $100.

What the fans are never told is that the billion-dollar business facing the banishment of its product from local television can remedy the situation by writing a check to the road team for, under the assumptions made above, $170,000.

Sure, that’s a nice chunk of change. But with each team getting hundreds of millions of dollars each year from the league’s TV deals, coughing up $170,000 is a no-brainer, especially since the expenditure is a write off.

This rule, if truly available, puts every future threatened blackout in a fresh perspective. As fans are begged by guys like Jared Allen to break out the cashish and buy tickets, the question eventually becomes whether the team will break out some of its far more ample supply of cashish and ensure that the game will be televised locally.

The loophole takes on even greater significance in light of the ongoing labor drama. With each side trying hard to curry favor with the fans, the union now has a potential tool for making mischief if/when blackouts are threatened in 2010. The weekly statement from Executive Director De Smith could go something like this: “We find it unfortunate that [insert name of team] has opted not to invoke the rule permitting a blackout to be avoided by paying [insert opposing team] 34 percent of the face value of the remaining tickets. In this case, that would cost [insert name of team] only [insert estimate of total cost], a small fraction of [insert name of team]'s total annual revenue. The NFL Players Association wants all NFL fans to be able to watch their local teams when those team are playing at home. We think that [insert] is a small price for [insert name of team] to pay to allow that to happen.”

Thus, the league’s best approach might be to quietly get rid of the rule that Neil Best discovered.