NFL Doesn't Get It: Blocking Fans Doesn't Make Them Like Teams Any More

from the this-is-still-happening? dept

I knew this was common years ago, but I honestly had no clue that modern sports leagues were so clueless as to think that it made sense to blackout local TV broadcasting if the attendance at the event wasn't a sell-out. Those rules were from a time (apparently still existing for some) where people actually thought that being able to see a game on TV would mean fewer people coming out to the actual game. Of course, as any sports fan knows, there's a massive difference between watching on TV and "being there." But allowing fans to watch their favorite team on TV does seem to encourage fans to care more about their team, making it more likely that they'll go out and see the team live when they can. But... not according to the NFL, who still has such blackout rules in effect, and is suddenly worried that attendance this season is dropping (thanks Carlo) due to the economy, meaning that many more games won't be shown to local fans. It's difficult to see how that makes any sense at all. All it does is piss off the biggest fans, and give them reasons not to pay attention to the team, and to cut out the most compelling local TV for many fans (harming ad revenue). On top of that, you risk a sort of death spiral. Teams that don't get enough fans at the live event piss off their fans who can't watch the games on TV -- and without the games on TV, they're less interested in following the team... leading to less interest in going to the game... leading to more empty seats... leading to even fewer games getting on TV.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Ima Fish (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 4:48pm

    "you risk a sort of death spiral. Teams that don't get enough fans at the live event piss off their fans...."

    That's pretty easy to fix. I'm from Detroit Lions territory. Needless to say in last year's awful season (16 straight losses, worst season ever in the NFL!) people stopped going to the stadium to seem them.

    It got so bad that the team dropped the black-out rule. So even though nobody was going to see the games at the stadium, we could still sit in our homes and watch them lose.

    Still, I totally agree that the entire premise of the black-out rule is asinine. To me it would be like a musical act refusing to allow their music to be played on the radio until their concert sells out. But that's essentially what the NFL are doing.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 4:59pm

    A little clarification:

    Agreed that the blackout rules are silly in that they decrease overall team revenue, particularly from merchandise (lllllloooooottttttsssss of jerseys), nor do they actually get more people to attend the game. As exhibit A, please see Bill Wirtz Chicago Blackhawks vs. Rocky Wirtz Chicago Blackhawks.

    However, one point of contention from a hardcore sports fan to a suspect football fan:

    "Of course, as any sports fan knows, there's a massive difference between watching on TV and "being there.""

    Absolutely true, but, as any FOOTBALL fan knows, football is the one sport that might actually be better to watch (for a fan of the sport) on TV rather than at the stadium. Fans of the teams go to the stadium, along with the boozers. Fans of the game AND the team get two 30 packs of Pabst, 3 deep dish pizzas, and a poker game going around the living room table while the Bears pound the packers in the tailpipe.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:19pm

    Wait, the NFL rule isn't set in stone?

    Are you saying that the team gets to decide when the black-out rule can be dropped/waived?

    As an aside they mentioned the percentages of games that were locally televised. I'd be interested to see which games stadiums/teams didn't get televised. For last season, where and when were those nine games did not get televised?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:23pm

    Good thing I live in Pittsburgh

    It's highly unlikely the Steelers would ever fail to sell out Heinz Field, so all their home games would still be on TV.

    As for some of the other NFL cities (especially ones that have had a couple blackouts in the past few seasons), there may be a lot of home games getting blacked out this season if what the NFL's home office says is true.

     

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  5.  
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    Skeptical Cynic (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:25pm

    Bears pound the Packers?!?

    Only once in a blue moon.

    But seriously I really don't understand the blackout rule. I believe it must be an agreement forced on to the NFL by the team owners to maximize revenue.

     

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  6.  
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    ..., Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:31pm

    National Felons League

    Going to a game is much more entertaining if you have cash to burn. For the rest of us, it's pizza and beer in front of the tv suffering through those idiot talking heads.

     

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  7.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:36pm

    Braves fans

    There's a whole cohort of Atlanta Braves fans across the nation who grew up in the eighties, since every one of their games was broadcast on cable via TBS. People nowhere near ATL started watching the team, then became fans.

    This is the exact opposite of that.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:42pm

    What is really dumb is 9 times out 10 if you have satellite you can watch the game anyway.

     

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  9.  
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    Bradley Stewart, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:45pm

    Great Idea Huh!

    What a really big heart the NFL has. Penalize the fans who can't afford the price of a ticket or tickets in this lousy economy so these over payed dopes if they wern't such good players who most of whom have no other talent would probably be in prison.

     

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    Bradley Stewart, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:47pm

    Great Idea Huh!

    What a really big heart the NFL has. Penalize the fans who can't afford the price of a ticket or tickets in this lousy economy so these over payed dopes if they wern't such good players who most of whom have no other talent would probably be in prison.

     

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    you want a name well for now my name is fred., Aug 31st, 2009 @ 5:55pm

    One false assumption Mike: You are assume the lack of ticket sales is a problem of interest in the product. I would say that for the most part, it is the crappy economy. Even NASCAR, which broadcasts every second of every event and pre-games every race for 2 - 4 hours and postgames it as well has a hard time pushing tickets this year.

    TV isn't the magic solution, people having money in their pockets is. Abolishing blackout rules won't change the real problem, it won't suddenly put money in everyone's pocket.

     

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    Ima Fish (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Wait, the NFL rule isn't set in stone?

    "Are you saying that the team gets to decide when the black-out rule can be dropped/waived?"

    I have no idea if the team decided on its own. Maybe the Lions had to get permission from the NFL. I'm just saying the rule was dropped last year towards the end of the season.

     

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  13.  
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    ..., Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:23pm

    Re:

    Fred == fail, again.

    What affect, if any, do you think a blackout has upon advertising dollars earned and how does that affect the NFL ?

     

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    hank, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:34pm

    Ima -- awesome comment

    "To me it would be like a musical act refusing to allow their music to be played on the radio until their concert sells out"

    _perfect! it reminds me of HOV lanes, -- you can't actually encourage people via punishment, it has never proven to work. the NFL should realize that american football, auto racing, and several other sports are *much* better enjoyed on TV, yet the overall experience of actually attending an event is different and unique experience, and for every person who "steals" a bleacher seat by watching it on TV, they are actually increasing the value of the entrance ticket, by creating a culture and social experience that TV cannot replace. The nfl has actually been brilliant at this, by branding the sports league as a lifestyle and personal identity trait that is bigger than the sport itself, sure going to a nfl game or a car race sucks, you can never tell whats going on, it's all a confusing mess, but the social experience outweighs the actual experience, hence there is a value to spending $300 on a ticket as an entrance fee to the cultural and social experience

     

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    senshikaze (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:42pm

    Re: A little clarification:

    As a college football fan, an a semi-serious one, I can say that there is one critical piece missing from the TV experience. 70,000+ other screaming fans who love this game too. I would never say that it is easier to watch and follow a game live (pretty graphics and useless stats are nice) but the sheer emotion of a live game can't be beat. I think that soccer (err, "football") on the other side of the pond has much the same reaction as we have to our football. I love The Game. Not just the game.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:48pm

    Re: Re:

    I would say that the blackout has little if any effect on ad dollars, as most games are watched majoritly OUT of market. It might have some effects in the local market, but even then, it more to do with butts in the seats than anything.

    You miss the important point: If people don't have money, they ain't going to the game. Just as importantly, they are immune to advertising at that point, because they don't have disposable income. So all of the issues turn back to the lack of money in the economy, and nothing else.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 6:50pm

    Re: Ima -- awesome comment

    Sorry, but the music analogy isn't very good, even in Techdirt terms. Quite simply, the music isn't the concert. Listening to studio tracks isn't the enjoyment of the music live, it isn't the interaction, it isn't the event.

    The football game? In person or on TV, the game is the game. You don't get just the warmups on TV and only game in person, you get the game no matter what. So the only difference is the atmosphere.

    Music isn't a good parallel here at all.

     

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  18.  
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    ..., Aug 31st, 2009 @ 7:01pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Ad dollars are based upon quantuty of eyes glued to the tube. Blackouts remove eyes and therefore dollars. It's quite simple. You can argue about the magnitutde, but the direction is obvious.

     

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  19.  
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    Skysurfer, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 7:01pm

    Re: Ima -- awesome comment

    Exactly, locking it down makes it seem more exclusive, creating more desire from individuals to be part of the "club". I would also attribute much of the NFL's success to this simple principal. They have kept it accessible while still making it seem exclusive. I don't like this approach at all, but I do understand how the marketing principal works. You notice how the trend is to watch the game as a group event, as one person/organization pays to view the game and others come to participate. This leads to an interesting social hierarchy that forms due to people competing to host the viewings or fit in with the group.

     

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  20.  
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    random, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 7:19pm

    Re: anonymous coward

    "if you have satellite you can watch the game anyway"

    I do not have satellite so I will have to take what you say as truth for now. going with that assumption...

    Why risk missing the game because you have not bought an expensive programming package from the cable company or subscribed to satellite.

    Could this blackout rule be another tactic to encourage the average consumer to buy not only stadium tickets but more service for when they can't be there in person?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    sorry, but the blackouts effect only that market. The games are all broadcast at least regionally if not nationally. The income doesn't drop dramatically if the game isn't shown on one network affiliate in the 17th biggest city in the US.

    The effects are negligible. if the local market was the only income, perhaps, but that just isn't the case.

     

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  22.  
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    thomas, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 7:54pm

    Confused

    I never heard that NFL teams cared about their fans. As long as people buy tickets, pay for whatever, they could care less.

     

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  23.  
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    ..., Aug 31st, 2009 @ 8:16pm

    Re: Confused

    They even give their fans the finger.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 8:16pm

    Entitled?

    Isn't the NFL entitled to have guaranteed sell outs no matter what the ticket cost? No matter how many of their players are caught doing any number of antisocial/illegal activities? No matter what restrictions it puts on fans to make being a fan more difficult.

    Sell outs are a divine right, and the owners know it down to their bones. Nothing will change because the owners know what they are entitled to. Fortunately, the owners have managed to forget anything to the contrary that they might have learned in basic economics or marketing courses they may have taken in college.

     

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  25.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 31st, 2009 @ 8:42pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    This is only true if you assume that each person sets some absolute "football games allowance" each season based on their disposable income. The fact that someone chooses not to attend a football game this year doesn't mean they have NO MONEY FOR ANYTHING.

     

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  26.  
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    slander (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 10:07pm

    Re: Braves fans

    I remember that... SuperStation WTBS

     

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  27.  
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    slander (profile), Aug 31st, 2009 @ 10:17pm

    Re:

    Er, you don't watch much NASCAR, it seems. 2+ hours of pre-race, yes. Every second of every event, not so much. Constant commercials, missing restarts, talking heads jib-jabbing about anything but the race, and post-race being minimized so as not to miss the all-important high-stakes poker tournament.

    Whew... I feel better, now.

     

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  28.  
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    Richard, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 1:39am

    Re: Re: A little clarification:

    "I think that soccer (err, "football") on the other side of the pond has much the same reaction as we have to our football. "

    You could call it (soccer that is) "footie" no one over here actually calls it soccer and "football" creates a transatlantic confusion.

     

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  29.  
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    Richard, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 1:43am

    Re: Entitled?

    Simple solution,

    pass on the unsold tickets to the broadcasters to resell. If the broadcasters show the game they have to pay for the tickets they don't resell (or if they resell for less than face value then they have to pay for the difference.

    The broadcasters will know how the sums work (and they also might be better at selling tickets...)

     

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  30.  
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    BoloMKXXVIII, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 4:05am

    NFL

    Meh. I used to be a big NFL fan (Green Bay Packers), but free agency killed my interest. How can you back a team that changes players every year? The NFL is getting what they deserve.

     

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  31.  
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    Vincent Clement, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 4:47am

    Major league sports doesn't understand most things. I attended a Detroit Tigers game on Sunday. While walking to the gate I heard an announcement that selling tickets for more than face value is illegal. Inside the park, a can of beer was $6.75. That same can costs less than a buck in a store.

    So it's illegal to sell a ticket at more than face value, but it is perfectly fine for the stadium to sell beer at over six times the 'street' value.

     

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  32.  
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    PRMan, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 5:47am

    Re: A little clarification:

    Yeah. The fans actually CHEERED when they announced Bill Wirtz' death.

     

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  33.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 6:40am

    Dear NFL

    Dear NFL

    If you blackout my team, I won't watch NFL football.

    I went to the teams official website and clicked the link to buy tickets. The cheapest ticket for my home town team is $115. Cheapest. Per ticket. Even if I bring my own food and beverage, when you add in parking you are talking $250 for two people to go to a game. For lousy nosebleed seats? No thanks.

    This is why I stay home and watch. I don't have to deal with drunken idiots. I don't have to deal with weather. I don't have to worry about buying ridiculously over priced food. I can watch on my nice HDTV, relax with friends and have a good time.

    If you take my team off TV, I won't go to a game. I just won't watch the NFL. Sorry, you priced yourself right out of my reach. Bye!

     

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  34.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 1st, 2009 @ 6:42am

    Re: Re: A little clarification:

    "Yeah. The fans actually CHEERED when they announced Bill Wirtz' death."

    I don't know about cheered, but let out a huge sigh of relief and began to seriously start thinking about hockey again? Oh yeah!

     

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  35.  
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    Joe S, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 7:16am

    Protection

    This rule, in theory, should protect consumers and preserve the free market. Yes it expensive to go to games, but only because tested levels of demand have indicated a market willingness to pay those ticket prices. Once that market dries up, the team should re-evaluate those ticket prices in order to ensure that games remain a sell-out.

    The crux of the issue is where the revenue and demand curves intersect - is it more profitable to sell discounted seats and keep the ad revenue or maintain high seat prices for a more limited audience and relinquish the ad revenue? Furthermore, do you think most team owners really care THAT much?

     

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  36.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Sep 1st, 2009 @ 8:57am

    Re: Dear NFL

    Where do you live that your local team's cheapest ticket is $115/ticket? I thought my local Bears were bad at $55-$60 per ticket for the cheapest ones.

     

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  37.  
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    reality, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 11:30am

    Re: Bears pound the Packers?!?

    The main problem the Bears have had for a long time was they didn't have a decent quarterback. That problem appears to have been solved this off-season. With Jay Cutler, yes, the Bears will pound the Packers.

     

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  38.  
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    TheStupidOne, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    In San Diego

    Football season in San Diego ... you have a number of different types of fans:
    A) Die Hard tailgaters and in the stadium screaming constantly at every game, no matter what
    B) Die Hard fans that scream at their 60 inch HDTV for every game while watching the replay, wearing a jersey, and indoctrinating their children. (Some of these HATE the stadium experience)
    C) Fair Weather Fans that go to the stadium ot watch on TV when the team is doing well or to the beach when they aren't
    D) Casual fans that will go to the stadium if there is a really good matchup or cheap tickets but don't really care that much. They'll watch the game on TV if they aren't doing anything else at the time.

    So of these, A won't care about the black out, B will be INCREDIBLY pissed, C will go to the beach, and D will not even notice.

    In the long run B's children won't care about the team because they don't watch the games with dad anymore and a new generation of die hard fans vanishes. Good job NFL

     

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  39.  
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    Mike O'Horo, Sep 1st, 2009 @ 1:37pm

    Re: Braves fans

    Yes, but those same TV-rooted Braves fans of a classy team led by HOF pitchers Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz, who won their division something like 12 straight years -- embarrassed that classy team by having tons of empty seats visible on TV during NLDS and NLCS games. How can a metro area as large and wealthy as ATL not sell out playoff games? Shame.

     

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  40.  
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    salescoach (profile), Sep 1st, 2009 @ 1:44pm

    Re: Braves fans

    Yes, but those same TV-rooted Braves fans of a classy team led by HOF pitchers Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz, who won their division something like 12 straight years -- embarrassed that classy team by having tons of empty seats visible on TV during NLDS and NLCS games. How can a metro area as large and wealthy as ATL not sell out playoff games? Shame.

     

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  41.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 1st, 2009 @ 2:12pm

    Re: Re: Braves fans

    "Yes, but those same TV-rooted Braves fans of a classy team led by HOF pitchers Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz, who won their division something like 12 straight years -- embarrassed that classy team by having tons of empty seats visible on TV during NLDS and NLCS games. How can a metro area as large and wealthy as ATL not sell out playoff games? Shame."

    Ludacris was in town.

    That is all it took...

     

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  42.  
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    hkjhuh, Sep 2nd, 2009 @ 9:44am

    Stupid rule

     

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  43.  
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    fjsodfij, Sep 2nd, 2009 @ 9:44am

    Dumb

     

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  44.  
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    fjsodfij, Sep 2nd, 2009 @ 9:46am

    Dumb

    THERE IS ALWAYS RADIO>>>>>>NOT AS GOOD> BUT THE NFL WILL SHOOT THEMSELVES IN THE FOOT WITH THIS DUMB RULE. IF PEOPLE CANT AFFORD IT, THEY CANT AFFORD IT. PEOPLE WILL ULTIMATELY FIND A DIFFERENT INTEREST.....HOCKY SEASON IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER,..ITS ACTUALLY A MUCH BETTER SPORT.

     

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  45.  
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    CHARLIE, Oct 4th, 2009 @ 9:20pm

    YOU CAN SAY WHAT YOU WANT ABOUT IT BEING AN ECONOMY ISSUE BUT IN SOME OF THE TOP TEAMS CITIES THE SAME ECONOMIC PROBLEMS ARE GOING ON YET THEY STILL SELL OUT....AS FAR AS IF YOU HAVE SATTELITE YOU STILL GET THE GAME THAT IS NOT TRUE....EVEN WITH DIRECT TV'S SUNDAY TICKET IT IS BLOCKED IN THAT CITY SELLOUT OR NOT SO LOCAL TV CAN TELEVISE IT...DUE TO CONTRACTS WITH THE LOCAL NETWORKS HOME GAMES ARE NOT TELEVISED THRU THE SUNDAY TICKET IN THAT CITY THAT IS CONTRACTED TO THE LOCAL NETWORKS....HERE IN MASS AS A PATS FAN WE ARE EXPERIENCING THE SAME ECONOMIC PROBLEMS AS ANYWHERE ELSE AND HAVE THE MOST EXPENSIVE TICKET IN THE NFL YET THERE IS STILL QUITE A WAITING LIST AND WILL BE SOLD OUT FOR YEARS TO COME

     

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  46.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Oct 4th, 2009 @ 9:24pm

    Re: Dear NFL

    MAYBE THE CHEAPEST "AVAILABLE" TICKET IS $115.00... YOU MISSED THE BOAT ALL THE CHEAP SEATS ERE GONE....THE PATS ARE THE MOST EXPENSIVE TICKET IN FOOTBALL AND AVERAGE $118.00 FOR GENERAL TICKETS BUT THERE ARE THOUSANDS OF SEATS FOR LESS JUST VERY TOUGH TO GET

     

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