Skip navigation
Sign up to follow your favorites on all your devices.
Sign up

Blackouts are far less common than they used to be


Though avoiding blackouts has become a big issue for the NFL, it didn’t used to be that way.

As teams struggle with the blessing-turned-curse of deciding whether and to what extent the minimum threshold for selling non-premium seats should be dropped from 100 percent to as low 85 percent in order to avoid blackouts, we’ve gotten our hands on some historical numbers that are surprising, to say the least.

As many of you already know, the blackout percentage once was 100, because games were blacked out in the local market even if the games were sold out. It’s a dynamic that forced fans who couldn’t or wouldn’t buy tickets to drive beyond the blackout zone to watch the game on TV, either at a hotel/motel/Holiday Inn or at the house of a relative or friend. (You really need to click that link, if only to marvel at the smedium T-shirt “big, bad Hank” is wearing.)

Once the blackout rule was adjusted in 1973 to exempt sellouts, plenty of games were still blacked out.

In 1974, only 82 of 182 total regular-season games were televised in the home team’s local market, which translates to a 53-percent blackout rate. The next year, nearly 60 percent of games were blacked out in the home-team market, with only 75 of 182 games seeing the restriction lifted.

The number finally dropped to 50 percent in 1978, and went as low as 29 percent before the 1982 strike. That pushed the number back to 46 percent, with a slow descent to 42 percent until the next strike hit in 1987.

The ’87 strike, which wiped out only one regular-season game but entailed several weeks of Shance Falco, Sean Payton, and friends, didn’t affect the steady reduction in blackouts. In 1988, the rate was at 40 percent. The percentage remained in the 30s through 1997, dropping to 25 percent in 1998.

In 1999, the percentage of games blacked out slid to 16 percent, and it hasn’t been any higher since then. The record came in 2006, when only three percent of all games weren’t televised in the home team’s market, and 13 of 17 weeks entailed full sellouts, across the board.

The number inched up to four percent in 2007 and 2008 before dropping to nine percent in 2009 and 10 percent in 2010. Last year, only six percent of games were blacked out.

Arguably, then, there’s no need for a relaxation in the rule. During Friday’s PFT Live, I’ll offer up some theories/hypotheses/spitballs as to why the league made the change, and as to where it all may go from here.