NFL drops ball by blacking out Lions game


In the early 1920s, parents in this country would tell their children to “remember the starving Armenians” as a way to remind them that life could be much worse. Almost a century later, it’s scary to think that the present day equivalent to that statement isn’t referring to people in Africa or Afghanistan or Communist China.

It’s referring to the people of Detroit, as in, “we might be broke, but at least we don’t live in Detroit,” or Delaware’s motto: “we might not have a national park, but at least we’re not Detroit.” That’s how rough things are in the nation’s eleventh largest metropolitan area, where the unemployment rate is about to eclipse 30 percent.

And just to kick a beaten man while he’s down, virtually no one in the city got to see the Lions win for the first time since John Edwards and Rudy Giuliani were still Presidential hopefuls. That’s because the NFL blacks out any local market game that isn’t sold out at least 72 hours in advance. It’s a policy meant to punish fans for not supporting the home team enough to purchase tickets. The league thinks of those people as freeloaders, and you can’t make money off people like that.

Except the NFL does. In fact, it just made $4 billion from DirecTV, which locked up exclusive rights to the league’s Sunday Ticket, the package that encourages fans to stay home and watch every game as opposed to actually going out and buying a ticket.

Of course, not even someone willing to pay $299 for the Sunday Ticket could sneak past NFL blackout restrictions. I learned that today when I spoke with a customer service agent at DirecTV. I wanted to know roughly how many people in Detroit were fortunate enough to watch the Lions win over Washington on Sunday and he informed me that the same rules apply to DirecTV subscribers as everyone else in the area.

“If a team can’t sell out, we can’t show their games locally,” the agent said. “The NFL has rules.”

But in a case like Detroit’s, it’s not about how strict the league is. It’s about how out of touch a multi billion dollar industry is with the people who helped it grow in the first place. Almost a third of these folks can’t find a job, let alone come up with the cash to purchase tickets to a game. That’s rent money. Or food money. These people are forced to be freeloaders. Sorry that helping the Lions sell out isn’t a top priority right now.

Some will say the people of Detroit should be thinking more about finding a job than watching Matthew Stafford play quarterback. You think they aren’t? That doesn’t mean they deserve to be shutout completely.

Sports can play a very powerful role in times like these. No, they aren’t helping anyone find a job or put food on the table, but they can unite a region. Ask someone in New England. Or just ask those that followed Michigan State’s magical run to the Final Four last April.

The games do matter.

Just not to the NFL.


Anonymous 7:16 PM, September 28, 2009  

This was a really good post Dan. The NFL is a bunch of crooks starting right at the top.

Jason Metzler 8:22 PM, September 28, 2009  

Nice post, thanks for visiting mine as well. I think it is unfortunate so many fans missed out on it but also that there wasn't even 50,000 people at the game....

J. Metzler

Anonymous 8:41 PM, September 28, 2009  

Why is it then everyone has to make Detroit sound like a third world country? Everything thinks that we can only be happy when some senseless sports team wins a game. There are real people here who actually have jobs and have lives and don't need everyone to just feel bad for us.

Dean 10:45 AM, September 29, 2009  

People have been all over Roger Goodell this season about the blackout rule, and he has budged roughly an inch. After the game ends, they post the replay of the blacked-out game on, as if that's sufficient. So technically, you can see the game in its entirety, once you already know the outcome. But fans like myself who quietly suffered through nearly two years of forgetting what victory felt like will still be unable to replace the feeling of being there when it happened, and that's a real shame.

That being said, you can bet William Clay Ford isn't shedding any tears over anything except the lowest attendance record since the 80's. The man has a 45-year history of caring more for his wallet than his team, the fans, and most of all, winning.

Big Al 2:19 AM, September 30, 2009  

The blackout rules are archaic and no longer needed. If every other league in existence can televise every game locally, and still make boatloads of cash (see MLB, the NBA,even the NHL), so can the NFL.

It's going to take Congress threatening to take away their anti-trust exemption for things to change, unfortunately.

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