The Oakland Raiders beat the San Diego Chargers yesterday. Unfortunately, few folks in the Oakland area actually witnessed this, noted the Oakland Tribune:
The announced crowd was only 48,279 in a stadium that holds 63,132. A week earlier, the Raiders attracted only 32,218 fans for a game against the Houston Texans, their smallest crowd since 1967.
All three of Oakland’s home games this season have been blacked out on local TV, stretching the current streak to the past 10 homes games dating back to 2009. In all, 79 of 143 home games have been blacked out since the Raiders moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995.
The NFL’s television policy — which dates back to 1951, when “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” was the number-one show in the land — currently prohibits the networks from broadcasting a team’s home games in its home market unless the game is sold out at least 72 hours prior to kickoff. (Actually, a team need not sell every seat — a 1987 amendment excludes certain “premium” seats from blackout calculations.) So Raiders fans who actually live in the Bay Area are not allowed to see their team’s games on television unless the NFL is satisfied that enough seats were sold at the stadium.
The blackout policy is a charming, if annoying, throwback to the pre-Internet era when conventional business wisdom held that withholding a product from the public somehow made it more attractive to potential customers. But this isn’t the 1970s, and football fans are increasingly turning to technology to circumvent the NFL’s blackout edicts. The San Diego Union-Tribune recently reported:
[San Diego] Chargers fans … used atdhe.net, a no-frills website that offers dozens of live TV and sports events. The site provides no information about the origin of the telecasts, or the location of its operational headquarters. One Internet search indicated atdhe.net is based in Sweden.
There are others, such as justin.tv, channelsurfing.net and my2p2.eu. Some are more reliable than others, depending on bandwidth and demand for a particular game. Some disappear from cyberspace, only for others to magically appear — making policing them akin to the whack-a-mole carnival game.
But they work, as about 200 customers at O’Brien’s Irish Pub & Grill learned Sunday in Carrollwood, Fla. The CBS telecast from the blacked-out Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh game was routed through a computer to bar TVs; the images were grainy, but it beat waiting for the free replay on nfl.com at midnight.
Roger Goodell, the NFL’s chief executive officer, told reporters yesterday at the blacked-out Raiders game that he is “studying” the blackout policy but added, “We want to make sure our stadiums are full.” Amy Trask, the Raiders CEO, blamed the stadium itself and said the team needed a new one:
“We’re having ongoing discussions about the stadium opportunities,” Trask said. “We’re working very, very cooperatively with the city and with the local officials. We’ve been extolling the virtues of this site for a quite a while now.”
Trask is pushing for a project that includes more than a new stadium. She said she envisions a facility that serves as “a catalyst for an urban renovation in the manner in which to bring economic stimulus for the whole region. We have been working very cooperatively with the city. (We) understand this region. Right now, fans come to this facility and there’s nowhere for them to spend their money in the area.”
Trask used the S-word — “stimulus” — which should tell you how economically sensible a new stadium would be. Keep in mind, the Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995 after spending a decade-plus in Los Angeles. Raiders owner Al Davis has never been satisfied with any of the leases he’s signed with government-run stadium authorities, and he lacks the private capital necessary to build his own facility. Any new stadium means hundreds of millions of dollars in government-backed bonds, if not outright taxation.
Of course, the Raiders’ problems drawing fans couldn’t possibly stem from 20 years of mismanagement by Davis and Trask. NFL policy holds that owners are never responsible for their team’s misfortunes. If an owner makes poor financial decisions, the solution is a government bailout — i.e., a new taxpayer-financed stadium — or to punish customers by blacking games out. Anything to avoid dealing with the actual consequences of the owners’ decisions.