Temperatures in the high 40s, with some rain. That’s the forecast for Buffalo on Sunday when the Bills and the Dolphins kick it off. Balmy, then. So much so that the team from Miami can’t, should they lose, use the weather for an alibi. Likewise, the fans who choose not to pay sit in the stadium and watch. The Bills have been disappointing but not surprising. They seem always to be disappointing. And it’s almost Christmas. So, even if you follow the team and have since the Jim Kelly days, it might seem more appealing to stay at home and wrap presents. With the game on the television. In the background, of course.
But not so fast there.
If there are not enough people in Buffalo willing to pay up and fill the stadium to watch their forlorn team play what is for them a meaningless game at the tag end of another lost season … well, then, there will be consequences. People will pay. Including shut-ins who are Bills fans. Nobody, but nobody, in Buffalo will be permitted to watch the game on television. And just in case you thought this wasn’t serious, this spiteful rule comes to you courtesy of the NFL with the federal government supplying the muscle.
It is a called the “blackout” rule and, as Gautham Nagesh writes in the Wall Street Journal it has been in force since the 70s when:
... the Federal Communications Commission ... cemented the league's policy in place by requiring cable and satellite TV providers to observe any blackout imposed on local broadcasters. That ensures no one in the team's home area can watch, regardless of how people get their TV service.
Why the government needs to be working with the NFL on anything is a mystery. The NFL is not General Motors circa 2009 in either it essentialness or poverty. If any enterprise is less in need of help and could be expected to stand on its own, then it is this behemoth. The NFL is not starving and holding out a beggar’s bowl in front of its Park Avenue corporate headquarters, the location of which might explain why the Super Bowl will be played in the New Jersey Meadowlands in February where (and when) the weather might be a real problem.
But that is for later. For now, the NFL is letting the Federal Communications Commission (and, presumably, the tame legislators it has in its pockets) know that it would like to keep the blackout rule in effect.
"The blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds," said spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Which may, or may not, be true but either way, has nothing to do with the cost of cauliflower. This is sports and entertainment. And if those things can't make it in the market without government help, then the whole game is up.
Let ‘em play in front of empty seats. For the love of the game.