- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 19, 2009

NFL should put its money on black(outs)

With the prospect of numerous NFL teams having the plug pulled on some or all of their home broadcasts this season, there has been quite a bit of chatter about forcing the league to abandon its unparalleled blackout rule.

For a lot of reasons, this would seem to make sense.

No. 1 is that the rule is a holdover from a different era - it was instituted in 1973, back when the United States was entering a severe recession and the NFL actually had to worry about how fast the turnstiles spun on Sundays.

That’s no longer a concern for the league, which drew 17.5 million fans last season after a record 17.6 million in 2007.

Another reason to dump blackouts is that it punishes mainly a certain class of people - those who can’t afford to fork out $75 for the average ticket. Their only recourse to follow their team is to watch it on television, and blackouts effectively are a punishment for their not being able to afford a ticket. Unfair, indeed.

But commissioner Roger Goodell has no plans to revisit the policy, for one - even greater - reason: Never mess with a good thing.

In the blackout era, NFL revenues have ballooned and the league has usurped baseball as the top sport in the land. In the process, television contracts have become the league’s golden goose. From 2008 to 2011, the league is collecting $11.6 billion in television revenues, so it needs to do everything it can to protect that source of income while still providing a forceful incentive for fans to show up.

It’s often argued that blackouts alienate existing fans and turn away potential fans. Having lived through several periods of frequent blackouts in Philadelphia in the past 20 years, I can say this is simply false.

Bad teams estrange fans, not blackouts. And with many of those teams, fans would rather not watch; they welcome blackouts as a reason to do something else on Sunday rather than spend three hours cursing their team.

Ultimately, the NFL understands well the principle of supply and demand, and that’s why it’s keeping the blackout in its back pocket.

Saturday’s best bet on television

Bo Pelini and Nebraska have had no trouble moving the ball, racking up 984 yards in the first two games. That will end at Virginia Tech. 3:30 p.m., Chs. 7, 2

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