NFL Eases Off Blackout Rules Due to Declining Attendance

PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: An exterior view of Heinz Field before the start of preseason play between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons on August 27, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Steelers fans must understand there's this whole other world outside Western PA. There are actually cities in which NFL teams don't sell out every game.

It's weird, I know.

Because of those other cities, and the lagging attendance the league has seen at its stadiums in the last five years, the NFL is backing down from its previous rule requiring a team to sell out every seat in order for the game to be broadcast locally. Now, they'll just need 85 percent of those tickets.

It's a foreign concept to some of the hugely followed teams like the Steelers, the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots. But for other markets, like Tampa Bay, San Diego and Minnesota, a dip in the win column usually means less fans will bother buying tickets.

On one hand, it's fun to say we root for a team that will never experience that problem. On the other, the issue itself is rooted far more in technology and comfort than it is wins and losses.

Let's just set aside the price of tickets for now. It's an uncomfortable reality in which every fan must live. The seemingly simple act of getting to and from the game is a bit more hard-hitting.

In Pittsburgh, it's not too difficult (not at all convenient, but what can you do?) to get to and from Heinz Field. It's at an easily identifiable location, and there is tons of parking around the stadium. The ghastly prices for that parking aside, you can get there. With the opening of the North Shore Connector, parking becomes cheaper and more convenient.

Theoretically.

I live in the suburbs of Minneapolis, and a good buddy of mine, Chuck, was a Vikings season ticket holder for several years, until 2011. He chose not to renew his seats not because of the lack of success of the team, or the dingy confines of the Metrodome. He did it because enjoying the full live event culture for fans is an absolute pain in the posterior in the Twin Cities.

On Steelers bye weeks, or preseason games, or when the Steelers play at night, I went to games with Chuck. Games in the central time zone start at noon. There isn't a specific parking ramp used exclusively for the Metrodome, and without large lots right around the stadium, you, as a motorist, have two options. You can either park in one of a few hundred building ramps, which go for your standard $20 or so, depending on distance. Or, you can park at one of a few landmark hubs in the suburbs, and take the light rail downtown.

Chuck usually opts for the light rail. He lives out west, and I live south, so we meet at a central point and I hop in his car. We drive to Fort Snelling (eastern suburb), park and get tickets to the light rail. The route itself begins at Mall of America, but there is no parking at Mall of America. There's a Park 'n Ride at a failed condo project not far from there, which is where 90 percent of the seats on the light rail are taken.

We get in at Fort Snelling, just three stops into the route, and there aren't any seats left. You're packed in, as Chuck would say, "nut to butt" with approximately half of those who will be in attendance at the game.

Because of the general lack of convenience of the light rail. you stop every two to three minutes at approximately 20 locations, meaning it takes you close to an hour to finally get to the Metrodome.

From there, we go tailgate, which, to be honest, is the best part of the game day experience. If we got on the light rail early enough to get a seat, we're in the tailgating lot (of which there are very few, thus damaging the experience for the fans. Pittsburgh is far more open about it due to the parking lots being designated specifically for Heinz Field).

We do that for an hour or two, and file like cattle into the Dome. I've been out there in -10 degree weather, and find those who speak of open air stadiums here amusing. Absolutely no way I'm watching a three hour game in that weather.

In the stadium, they don't show controversial replays, the stats aren't readily available, the between-play commercials are unavoidable and the lines in the bathroom are almost always 10 people deep. Concessions are obviously super expensive, and the lines to those are equally long. The seats are uncomfortable and cramped.

With the ticket, a beer or two, hot dog, and parking, I'm already out about $80, I'm uncomfortable and I'm watching the Vikings. At least Chuck roots for the team (to be fair, I didn't pay for the ticket, but you get the idea).

Getting home is an even more disastrous ordeal, as everyone leaves at once. It takes even longer to get on a bus, which are usually less attractive options to the teeming masses exiting the stadium. That takes us all the way back to Fort Snelling, where we get in Chuck's car, and he takes me back to my car, wherever it was.

I get home at probably 5:30 p.m.

So from leaving my house for the game, to getting home from the game, I am out and about longer than my average work day.

The question I want to ask after this long-winded ramble is why the hell would I want to buy a ticket to a game? You know what my time commitment is for a game I'm watching on TV? Three seconds to turn it on. Seven seconds if I have to flip it to CBS.

I got my beer, I got my comfortable seat, I've got a laptop to make smartass comments on BTSC's Open Game Thread (plug).

The point is the NFL is finally recognizing the game experience is far better at home than in the stadium. Sure, everyone should go to a game, but to suggest we can't watch them in the comforts of our home because not everyone wants to go through this whole ordeal is silly.


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