Four down, three to go.
The Buffalo Bills announced Monday afternoon that they have sold out their Thursday night prime-time game against the Miami Dolphins, meaning that the team’s first four games in Ralph Wilson Stadium have sold out. That announcement was made just hours before the 8:20 p.m. Monday deadline to lift the local TV blackout for Thursday’s game.
That ensures the game will be shown locally, both on WBBZ-TV, Channel 67, and the NFL Network. WBBZ also will air a two-hour pregame show and a postgame show. For most viewers, WBBZ is Channel 5 on cable.
Now comes the tough part for the Bills: selling out the last three home games, all in December.
More than 15,000 tickets each still remain for the Dec. 2 Jacksonville game and the Dec. 30 New York Jets tilt. More than 10,000 seats remain for the St. Louis game Dec. 9.
“That is a heavy volume of inventory to move in a short period of time,” Bills Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon said Monday. “It will be a difficult task.”
Neither WBBZ-TV nor any other local businesses had to step up to buy the remaining tickets for Thursday night’s game, Bills and station officials said.
“We put a very aggressive bid in to get the game,” said Bob Koshinski, WBBZ-TV’s vice president and general manager. “That’s where our money went … We’re ecstatic that the game sold out, and we’re able to carry it.”
The Bills have been working hard to sell out the Miami game.
“We were down to a couple thousand tickets remaining last week and have been working diligently to sell the remaining tickets before [the] deadline,” Scott Berchtold, the team’s senior vice president for communications, said Monday morning, a few hours before the sellout was announced.
Under National Football League blackout rules, the Bills could have lifted the blackout by “buying” back any unsold tickets, for 34 cents on the dollar, to pay the visiting team’s share of gate revenue.
The Bills, though, are reluctant to do that, and Brandon said the team did not resort to that practice.
“It was a clean sellout,” he said. “Our ticket office has a variety of ways to sell the product. It was standard business practice on our end.”
The Miami game is the last home game before December, with the added attractions of a prime-time nationally televised game against a longtime division rival.
So the blackout issue can be put away until at least early December, when the merits of the NFL’s newly relaxed blackout policy likely will be debated here again.
The Bills, along with at least four other NFL teams, opted out of the policy, which allows teams to avoid local blackouts if at least 85 percent of their nonpremium seats are sold for any game. By opting out, the Bills ensured that games here have to be sold out completely 72 hours before kickoff for the blackout to be lifted.
Brandon and other team officials have claimed that the new 85 percent rule wouldn’t affect many games here. When the Bills fail to sell out, usually in December, they often fall considerably short of the 85 percent figure, those officials have said.