Bills fans living in Western New York may have seen their last televised game from Ralph Wilson Stadium this season.
As of Monday afternoon, the Bills had about 5,500 tickets remaining for this Sunday’s game with the New York Jets, and approximately 20,000 for the Dec. 22 game against the Miami Dolphins.
Each game needs to sell out 72 hours before kickoff to avoid a blackout, although that deadline can be extended for a day or two.
Of immediate interest is Sunday’s game.
“It is not likely that the game will be sold out,” Bills President and CEO Russ Brandon acknowledged Monday afternoon. “It’s going to be difficult to reach that level of sales in the remaining three days, but we’re not going to stop working until Sunday, to try to get as many people in the building as we can.”
That doesn’t mean, though, that the blackout can’t be lifted.
The team has been aggressive in its ticket-selling efforts, offering a military discount to veterans and their families, who can buy tickets for $25 apiece. There also are reports that the team has offered ticket discounts to youth sports leagues.
The Bills, like any other National Football League team, have several options to ensure a sellout before Thursday’s blackout deadline.
It can approach the local television affiliate, in this case Channel 4, along with the team’s sponsors, advertisers and civic leaders, who might help sell the game out.
The team also has the option to buy up any remaining tickets, at 34 cents on the dollar, enough to pay the visiting team’s share of the gate receipts.
That’s exactly what Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. did for the Cincinnati game Oct. 13. Three days before that game, the team had reported being 5,300 tickets short of a sellout.
The team apparently has a tougher challenge selling tickets this week. The Bills are on a three-game skid, the weather’s been nasty, and people might be a little tighter with their discretionary money so close to Christmas.
Brandon said the team would have to get down to “a few tickets” remaining to use the blackout-prevention options. That presumably means roughly 1,000 or 2,000 tickets.
Asked why the fans shouldn’t expect Wilson to ride to the rescue again, Brandon replied, “We made a contribution to this game by offering discounted tickets to veterans and military groups throughout the region.”
Besides the Jets and Dolphins game, the Bills have one more “home” game, on Dec. 1 against the Atlanta Falcons in Toronto. The Toronto games always have been televised back to Buffalo.
The NFL might be more predisposed to avoiding blackouts this year, after a Federal Communications Commission official recently proposed eliminating a 40-year-old federal blackout rule that guided the league’s blackout policy. Critics of that proposal have pointed out, though, that the FCC governs TV rules and regulations, not NFL private business policy.
Still, there have been zero TV blackouts this season, through the first 10 weeks, or 147 games, NFL officials confirmed Monday.
There’s been only one other season that has had no blackouts through the 10th week, and that was in 2006, according to Brian McCarthy, the league’s vice president of corporate communications.
Blackouts have become rare occurrences, he added via email, noting that 15 games were blacked out last year and 16 in 2011. In both those years, 94 percent of games were shown on local TV.
Asked whether there was any added pressure on the league’s part to avoid blackouts this season, McCarthy replied, “No more pressure than any other year.”
Brandon was asked the same question.
“We put pressure on ourselves,” he said. “It’s important with our business model, based on our ticket pricing, which is consistently among the lowest in the league. We’re not satisfied until every seat in the building is sold.”
Some critics, both within and outside the league, have scoffed at some of the supposed “sellouts” across the league, especially in the three Florida markets and several other cities. One blackout was averted in October, even after more than 9,000 tickets remained unsold three days before a Monday night game in San Diego.
Bills fans, for example, have cited the large number of empty seats visible when the team played in Miami on Oct. 20.
As one fan wrote back on Halloween night, in response to an item on blackouts by ProFootballTalk.com, “How is Miami not blacked out? I got more kids at my door tonight and only went through 2 bags of Twix.”