NFL blackouts: What it means for sports fans

'NFL Sunday Ticket' won't show the game, no online

CINCINNATI -- The possibility of the Bengals Sunday playoff game being blacked out is likely.

If the remaining tickets are not sold by 1 p.m. Thursday, a television blackout will occur for the game on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

However, there is the possibility for an extension of time to sell more tickets.

What does this mean?

Sports leagues, especially the NFL, use blackouts to encourage fans to see games in a stadium rather than on TV. If a team doesn't sell out the stadium for that game, the game will not be shown on television.

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The cities most affected by blackouts are Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Diego and Tampa. Owners continuously fail to sell enough tickets to home games, which trigger the blackouts.

If you can't watch the game at home, where can you?

Blackouts are intended to block local channels from broadcasting the game. However, paid TV providers have to mirror the restrictions as well. This means even though you've paid for certain NFL coverage, you won't be able to watch the game.

DirecTv' s website reads, "If it is blacked out on your local broadcast station, it will also be blacked out in your area on NFL SUNDAY TICKET." A disclaimer for the site on blackout rules is listed. The same stands for Time Warner Cable , although their website for the NFL Network reads "...you'll never miss a play."

A satellite company can't import the signal of the game from elsewhere and show it here, by blackout rules.

If a blackout occurs, heading to your favorite sports bar like Holy Grail Bar & Tavern won't do you any good. 

Blackout regulations stand for online streaming of a broadcast as well. Although CBS will stream the game to fans on online, the rules still apply to your location. 

RELATED: Could Chad Johnson rescue fans from blackout?

If the game is blacked out, you would need to travel outside of Cincinnati's TV viewing area in order to watch the game. Because Cincinnati lays in an area that affects three states, traveling farther than you like is probable.

In almost any direction, you would need to drive about 45 minutes to get out of the Cincinnati viewing area to watch the game.

For example, drive to Carrollton, Ky., Greenburg, Ind. or Georgetown, Ohio and you could see the game. 

San Diego fans however, will have no problem watching the game.

Is this going to end?

The Federal Communications Commission took major steps at the end of 2013 to end the TV blackout rule. Cable and satellite companies stand behind the FCC, but NFL and local broadcasters oppose the idea.

The FCC has voted unanimously for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that would eliminate the sports blackout rules.

The NFL argued that getting rid of the rule would "undermine the retransmission-consent regime and give cable and satellite operators excessive leverage in retransmission-consent negotiations." 

Despite the push by the FCC, ticket prices still drive the blackout factor.

The progression of at-home entertainment, including HDTV, has contributed to the lack of ticket sales. Some fans say that watching the game in the luxury of their own home on a full-screen, HD television gives better views than being at the game without the hassle.

Fans commented on our Facebook page, saying that tickets are simply too expensive. That's the No. 1 reason that fans won't be attending Sunday's game, according to our Facebook comments.

In addition to tickets, paying for beverages, food and parking for a few hours of entertainment isn't affordable, said Sandy James.

Another fan said that the timing for this particular playoff game is holding them back from buying tickets. 

"The price, right after Christmas. Wish we could, but just can't," said Kelli Brown Kuchar.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, said in an email to Bloomberg News , “Changes in the marketplace have raised questions about whether these rules are still in the public interest, particularly at a time when high ticket prices and the economy make it difficult for many sports fans to attend games."

Five U.S. senators last year called on the NFL to stop blackouts. One of them was our Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. He noted that six of the Cincinnati Bengals’ eight home games in the 2011 season were blacked out.

“While the FCC’s recent unanimous vote to eliminate the Sports Blackout Rule is excellent news for fans and taxpayers across Ohio and across the country, the NFL should do everything it can to ensure that the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday’s playoff game is not blacked out,” said Senator Sherrod Brown.

“This is unacceptable at a time when the price of attending games continues to rise and the economy is not yet where it needs to be. Fans, through local taxes, often help pay for the stadiums. They should be able to cheer on their local teams, especially during the playoffs.”

For more information: The L.A. Times  has an in-depth explanation of the blackout rule on its website.
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