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New blackout rules give Bills some math to ponder

By Tim Graham

A couple of interesting NFL developments that can impact the Buffalo Bills were reported over the weekend.

The one that was addressed in The Buffalo News on Sunday pertained to the league finally revamping its blackout policy. I'll get to the other development later today.

Under the old blackout rules, games previously had to be sold out 72 hours in advance to be shown on local television. The new guidelines would allow each home team to decide for itself whether the game will be broadcast after 85 percent of the seats have been sold.

The Bills' public comment is that they're reviewing the policy to see how they'll handle it.

But this new approach could put the Bills -- and a few other teams -- in a public-relations bind, depending on how lenient they want to be.

No longer can a team shrug its shoulders and point to the decades-old blackout policy when fans get angry their favorite team won't be on TV.

Now, individual teams will make the call and must face the criticism if they sell more than 85 percent of their tickets but decline to show the game in hopes of maximizing their box-office receipts.

It will be interesting to see what ticket threshold the Bills choose. If the Bills set their target higher than 85 percent, then you know fans will resent it when the game isn't on TV, while another club allows its games to be shown at the minimum percentage.

The Bills, with one of the cheapest tickets in the NFL, rely on their turnstiles more than most clubs because they don't have the ancillary revenue streams of, say, the Dallas Cowboys or New York Jets.

Where the new policy will help is with a club like the Miami Dolphins. Their sellouts often are propped up. Owner Stephen Ross sometimes leaned on an NFL rule that allows him to purchase leftover tickets at 34 cents on the dollar to ensure the game makes the airwaves.

The NFL declined comment when contacted by Buffalo News reporter Jay Rey on Saturday, but a spokesman confirmed the new blackout policy to its own official website the same day.

"It's optional if clubs want to do this and would only affect a few teams," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told "Last year only 6 percent of games were blacked out in a local market. This figure is down significantly from 15 to 20 years ago when 25 to 30 percent of games were routinely blacked out."

The Bills had three blackouts last year, third-most in the NFL. Not coincidentally, they all were in December and January. The Cincinnati Bengals had six blackouts, followed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with five.

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About Press Coverage

Tim Graham

Tim Graham

Tim Graham returned to The Buffalo News in 2011 after covering the NFL for three years at ESPN and for one year at the Palm Beach Post. Before that, the Cleveland native spent seven seasons on the Buffalo Sabres beat for The News and was president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

@ByTimGraham |

Mark Gaughan

Mark Gaughan

Buffalo native Mark Gaughan started working at The News in 1980 and has been covering the Bills exclusively since 1992. He is a former president of the Pro Football Writers of America, and he is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee.

@gggaughan |

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski

Jay Skurski joined The News in January 2009. The Lewiston native attended St. Francis High School before graduating from the University of South Florida. He writes a weekly Fantasy column in addition to his beat writing duties.

@JaySkurski |