- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2006

Readers may recall that last week I wrote about how the NFL managed to sell out every game through the first six weeks of the year. Well, now that streak is up to seven: All of the NFL’s games over the weekend were played before packed houses. Even the junior varsity game between the previously winless Oakland Raiders and the miserable Arizona Cardinals was played before a sellout crowd of 61,595.

Sellouts are uniquely important in the NFL because of a league rule that prohibits a team’s home games from being broadcast locally unless the games are sold out at least 72 hours in advance. Now, this is never an issue for Redskins fans, who routinely pack FedEx Field every time their team plays at home. But fans of smaller market teams in Arizona, Jacksonville and Oakland have routinely been victims of the local blackout rule in years past.

This year appears to be different, for a number of reasons. First, the Cardinals, who hardly ever sold out Sun Devil Stadium, now play in a shiny new retractable-domed facility that is sold out for the season. The Jaguars, who once struggled to sell out, now have full houses in part because team ownership reduced capacity at AllTell Stadium. And the Oakland Raiders, despite their on-field woes, are now selling out every game at McAfee Coliseum most likely because of a reduction in season-ticket prices.

Since the NFL put in place the local blackout rule in 1973, there have been just 20 weekends where the rule has not been used at least once. Of those 20 weekends, seven have come this year. The previous record for blackout-free weekends in a season was four.

How long will this sellout streak last? I doubt it will last all year, but I’m struggling to find a pitiful-enough matchup that’s likely to end it. If the Raiders and Cardinals battling it out in Oakland can’t do it, what will?

Stay tuned to this. An entire season of completely sold-out games would be one heckuva story.

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