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Bills take strong stance on blackouts, Toronto game

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

In the last 24 hours, the Buffalo Bills took a stand on two major issues surrounding the club: boosting attendance in the Toronto “home” game and reacting to the NFL’s new relaxed blackout policy.

According to the Buffalo News’ Tim Graham in the Press Coverage blog, promoters of the Bills series in Toronto have cut ticket prices severely—a 35% drop overall. Because the Bills are scheduled to play in Toronto in December, a pivotal point of the season as Buffalo should be in the thick of the playoff race, it would be great for the organization if there was actually an engaged, Buffalo-heavy crowd in the Rogers Centre.

The NFL’s International Committee agreed to an extension of the Bills’ agreement with Toronto to transfer one home game each year, but the financial details of the new deal aren’t yet available and won’t net Buffalo the $78 million for seven games it received in the initial deal. The adjustment will at least determine whether the barrier preventing Bills fans from heading to Toronto was the cost of the trip or the principle that Buffalo shouldn’t have to share one home game with our northern neighbors in a money-grab.

The second piece of Bills news has more people up-in-arms. In response to the NFL’s adjusted blackout policy—which reduced the percentage of tickets that needed to be sold for a game to be televised in a local market—the Bills flatly rejected the optional changes and will abide by the same policy as previous seasons. 

Basically, the NFL would allow teams that opted in to the new policy to air games on local TV channels if 85% of non-premium seats were sold 72 hours before game-time. There are consequences for teams that do agree, however, including roughly $90,000 into a NFL-wide revenue pool, according to the Buffalo News’ Gene Warner. As a small market team, the loss of these funds would eventually lead to elevated ticket prices and even fewer fans in the seats. At its root, the relaxed blackout policy would encourage NFL fans to watch the game from their homes.

Russ Brandon, CEO of the Bills, explained the team’s decision in Warner’s article. Here’s perhaps his sharpest point:

* Of the Bills’ last six blacked-out home games, only one reached the 85 percent threshold for non-premium ticket sales. The other five games would have been blacked out, even under the new relaxed rule. And sales for most of those five games fell well short of the 85 percent figure.

Assuming the Bills are considerably more competitive next season than in 2011, then referring to past numbers isn’t the best guide. Still, a winning team will certainly fill a stadium, and the boost in ticket sales after the Mario Williams signing is evidence that Bills fans will attend games if the product is worthy.

Anyhow, Buffalo will need to completely sell out its non-premium tickets 72 hours prior to game-time for local TV access. Bills fans lent mixed reviews on Twitter:

(Header photo courtesy of Dave Marino from Bills vs. Patriots last year—full gallery here).

TAGGED: buffalo bills, buffalo bills fans, nfl blackout policy, rogers centre

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