GREEN BAY – A Packers game that didn’t sell out with fans failing to buy up all the tickets? What is the game of football coming to?
That was the situation as the Packers prepared to host the 49ers in this season’s Wild Card playoff match up. The Packers hadn’t faced a blackout on local television since the strike year of 1983.
Was that a wake-up call for the Packers?
“I think it is a wake-up call for the league,” said Kevin Quinn, who teaches sports economics at St. Norbert College in De Pere. “They’ve reached the limit of the number of folks who are willing to pay for what they are offering.”
Ticket prices for the Wild Card game at Lambeau Field rose from $74 during the regular season to $102 for the playoff game. And that’s the cheapest seat in the stadium.
Sure there were other factors like the cold weather and a limited number of days to sell tickets, but there was also the growing allure of watching football at home.
This is how Packers President Mark Murphy summed up the near blackout days before the game.
“You know overall I think it’s been, it’s been a trying week. This is a difficult issue I think. A lot of teams in the playoffs were dealing with it,” said Murphy.
Now that the season is over I wanted to ask Murphy on camera about the continued need for the blackout rule, but my repeated requests were denied.
So I turned to former Packers Vice President Andrew Brandt, who now runs his own business focusing on the NFL.
“Does the NFL need the blackout rule to fill the stadiums?” asked FOX 11′s Mark Leland.
“I think the premise of this entire discussion is the NFL does not want to change,” said Brandt. “I think the real challenge for the Packers and every team is improving game day experience–multi-screen, digital, interactivity, Wi-Fi. That’s going to be a given now for consumers.”
The NFL has mandated that every team in the league offer free Wi-Fi by the end of 2014.
“You have to be able to do your fantasy, to have fellowship with friends via your phone. That’s going to be a mandatory thing right now,” said Brandt.
The Packers have indicated in the past they are working on improving the fan experience.
“I do think over the next, the following years, you’re going to see a number of different things. What those are I’m not in a position now to say,” said Murphy back in July.
A Packers spokesman did offer this insight in an email response to my requests for an interview, saying…”We hope to have some updates with regard to the cellular service at the stadium in the next few months. At that time, we’ll be in a better position to discuss the ongoing efforts to improve the game day experience at Lambeau.”
Despite the negative attention the NFL received for three near-miss blackouts Wild Card weekend, a FOX 11 Fact Check shows only two games were blacked out in local markets all season. One in Buffalo, the other in San Diego.
But the NFL maintains the blackout rules is still needed to fill stadiums…issuing a statement to FOX 11 that says in part, “We strongly oppose any change in the rule. We set this season a historic low number of blackouts since the policy was implemented 40 years ago.”
What the NFL doesn’t mention are the games that avoided blackouts with sponsors buying up tickets, or the number of times teams were given extensions to sell tickets.
“Clearly if this becomes a trend, not just the fact there were only two blackouts, but over and over having extensions and having what happened that wildcard weekend, that would be a concern,” said Brandt.
“So if they want to continue to fill the stadiums they either have to enhance the product, which is the path they’re choosing or they’re going to have to back off on the price,” said Quinn.
The Packers boosted the cost of tickets last season, and Monday announced ticket prices would go up again this season by $3 a seat.