Sunday, January 05, 2014

(Not) At the Game

The Doctor sends me a link about the NFL blacking out local games if they're not sold out.  I know out-of-towners are always amazed by the fact that for the entire time that I've lived in Cleveland and watching the expansion Browns these past 15 (15?) years there has never been a locally blacked out game.  In this case it's interesting because even though the games are not blacked-out, the Browns have no issue selling tickets to fans who don't mind paying exorbitant fees to go freeze while watching a mediocre team.

A few weeks ago I almost sucked it up to go see the Bengals throttle Minnesota but I called off when Mrs. Sandmich said that she wasn't interested.  And why should she be?  The best and least expensive tickets I could find were on the NFL's resale service for $80 a piece (original price closed in on $100).  Add in parking, beer, driving to and from Cincy and the total toll would be closing in on $300.  My fallback plan illustrates the issue that the NFL faces as instead I went to BW3 and got to watch every game in HD and racked up only ('only') an $80 tab after tip for myself and Mrs. Sandmich.

The article at the link though points out the fact that the NFL derives some government favors in the fact that they can selectively blackout their games (point probably being that the NFL can choose not to broadcast the game at all, but ordinarily wouldn't be able to selectively blackout individual markets).  The question hanging in the air though is whether there is even direct correlation between blackouts and sellouts.  

In Ohio the two teams suggests that there may not be.  Cleveland fans seem to show up no matter what.  On the other side of the coin is Cincinnati which has fielded a respectable team for the past ten or so years but regularly doesn't sell out games.  Some of this might be political (many years of intentionally poor PR by Bengals owner Mike Brown has turned many potential fans into enemies) or the janus style* of play and coaching of the Bengals; but the point stands: blackouts do not help the Cincinnati Bengals sellout games any more than the threat of blackouts hurt the Browns chance of selling out games.  The point could easily be made that blackouts hurt ticket sales since a game that's not on doesn't exist to the casual fan.

Of course the game that shocked a lot of people this week was the Green Bay game which also needed corporate saviors to sell-out.  This is a team that has no issue selling out regular season games but couldn't get their fans to show up in horrible weather for a playoff game.  Many a commentator pointed out that in December, even "sold out" stadiums would be half empty (I know the Browns always suffer from this late in the season when "sold out" games are embarrassingly empty), so the actual interest in attending may be overstated.

What's the fix?  This seems to be one of those sports conundrums like the 'designated hitter' or 'all-star games' for which there isn't a very good answer.  Ideas that I've heard include more TV screens so that those at the games can watch other games or angles of the current game, more personalized service, official support for more vibrant tailgating (most munis seem to discourage tailgating), more manageable prices (riiight), and more indoor venues (because despite the love of "real football weather", no one actually likes to sit in it).  

I must confess that I'm probably not the best person to help with this since none of these ideas get rid of what I hate most about attending sports games in general and pro events in particular.  Whenever I get free tickets (typically from a vendor) my mind despairs at the crowds, traffic, parking, etc. that make even lightly attended Indians games a painful maze to navigate**.  Homebodies, alas, are probably not the target audience for sports game attendance.

*Marvin Lewis has been a great coach for the Bengals compared to what they had previously and is far preferable to what other teams, and especially the Browns, find themselves going through year after year.  That being said, it seems like he can never get his team to show up when it really matters.

**It's interesting that when it comes to parking and traffic, Cincinnati has, in my experience, been pretty good in this regard.  The number of highways and parking garages make getting in and out for games rather effortless, but that fact doesn't seem to help Bengals ticket sales either.

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