The Buffalo Bills' home finale Sunday against the Miami Dolphins will be blacked, but proposed rules changes at the federal level may make such a thing obsolete in the near future.
The Bills confirmed Thursday that Sunday's game has not sold out. Upwards of 16,000 tickets reportedly remain for the game, which is meaningless for the 5-9 Bills. This will be only the second blackout in the NFL in the 2013 season.
And it could be the last. The Federal Communications Commission voiced its support this week in favor of ending the blackout rule, which has stood in the NFL since 1973. Specifically, the FCC calls for the repeal of existing policies that contribute to sports TV blackouts.
"With respect to professional football … it appears from the existing record that television revenues have replaced gate receipts as the most significant source of revenue in the 40 years since the rules were first adopted. …Thus, it appears that the sports blackout rules have become obsolete."
league officials disagree. They say blackouts are rarely a problem; whereas 50 percent of games were blacked out in the 1970s, only around 6 percent have been in the 21st century.
"We will strongly oppose any change in the rule," said Brian McCarthy, the NFL's vice president of communications. "We are on pace for a historic low number of blackouts since the policy was implemented 40 years ago. While affecting very few games the past decade, the blackout rule is very important in supporting NFL stadiums and the ability of NFL clubs to sell tickets and keeping our games attractive as television programming with large crowds."
The league adopted a policy this past summer allowing teams to opt out of the sellout requirement for blackouts. Instead, they could decide to broadcast games locally with a club-chosen percentage of seats sold that could be as low as 85 percent. The Bills decided not to lower their blackout threshold, saying it would hurt ticket sales.
The Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium holds 73,079 people. That's the 11th-highest capacity in the NFL.
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