By Alan Pergament
With Buffalo Bills fans apparently facing their first TV blackout of the season for this Sunday's home game with the New York Jets, I offer a modest proposal.
You might call it a Hail Mary.
I propose that the entity that stands to gain the most from the game being televised cough up the most money to pay for the remaining 5,500 tickets or so.
It isn't the fans, who have suffered enough through a 3-7 season.
It isn't the Bills or the National Football League, which will do fine whether the game is televised or not.
It is Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate.
I propose the Channel 4, the Bills, Time Warner Cable or some local hero (hey Mario, want to be called Super Mario again?) combine and equally share the purchase of the remaining tickets. Channel 4 will give a little more in the way of free advertising.
The Bills and Channel 4 certainly have good reasons to want this game televised. And TWC can always use some good public relations, especially now that it is about to confuse local viewers by changing channel locations.
According to industry sources, Channel 4 makes about $100,000 in advertising every time the Bills appear on the station on the road or an AFC opponent comes to The Ralph.
That will happen at least 11 times this season, meaning Channel 4 will have about $1.1 million in its pockets thanks to the Bills, CBS and the NFL.
WUTV, which will carry the Bills two home games with NFL opponents, stands to make about $200,000. WBBZ paid to carry The NFL Network game with Cleveland. The games against the Jets and Miami will land on Channel 4 if they sellout in time or the NFL blackout policy is ignored.
It stands to reason that Channel 4's owner, LIN TV, should be convinced of the public relations value of paying $40,000 or so on tickets to make about $100,000.
The Bills certainly don't want last Sunday’s debacle in Pittsburgh to be a lasting memory and could view the Jets game as a chance to win back – or shall I say recharge -- the hearts of their fans.
Channel 4 could use the Jets game to promote more of its sweeps news stories and allow its new general manager, Rene LaSpina, to bask in the glow of saving the Bills game.
TWC could use some free advertising time from Channel 4 to explain its channel changing plans.
My educated guess is that all three entities could buy 1,800 tickets each, perhaps at a cut rate of 34 cents on the dollar, and have to pay about $40,000 each to assure a sell-out.
In Channel 4’s case, the goodwill gesture will make a lot of potential news viewers happy just as the station appears to be poised to possibly take back first place from Channel 2 in the local news competition.
They will also make their advertisers happy, weeks before the Christmas season is in full gear.
After all, there is no better place on TV to advertise than on Bills game. Even the team's dreadful 23-10 loss to Pittsburgh had a 36.1 rating on Channel 4. It was easiest the highest-rated program of the week here, most likely doubling the rating for such popular CBS prime time programs as "The Big Bang Theory" and "NCIS" that the station carries.
Bills President Russ Brandon said this week that it will be tough for this game to become a sellout. I concede this time around a potential blackout seems more likely than it did when the two previous home games were in jeopardy of being blacked out on local TV.
But forgive me for being just a little skeptical because the whole process appeared to be a bit of a charade for the Carolina and Cincinnati games.
The NFL hasn't had one game blacked out this season even though there have been plenty of empty seats for some games. It doesn't want Sunday's game in Buffalo to be blacked out, either. After all, it would like to tell the FCC that there aren't any -- or many -- blackouts just as the federal agency considers changing the rule that has helped set NFL blackout policy.
I'm told that CBS -- and not Channel 4 -- was behind the crawls that ran during the Pittsburgh game promoting ticket sales for the Jets game. Of course, CBS had to get the NFL's approval to run the crawl since the NFL controls just about everything.
The optimist in me can foresee the following scenario playing out since it has been played out before.
At 1 p.m. Thursday, the Bills will announce how many thousands of tickets remain for the game and add the NFL has given the team a 24-hour reprieve to sell the remaining tickets.
At 1 p.m. Friday, the league will grant the team another brief extension. It can't go too long beyond that because advertisers need to know if their ads are going to appear during the game.
By around 5 or 6 p.m. Friday, we’ll learn if team owner Ralph Wilson, Channel 4, TWC, Super Mario (he can afford it if he is allowed to buy them) or some local hero has come forward and bought the remaining tickets, though tickets will remain on sale through game time. Or we’ll find out if all of them combined will buy the tickets, as I’ve proposed. If there is a local business hero, he may get some free Channel 4 advertisements during the game and during the Christmas season.
It may be a Hail Mary, but if my optimistic scenario comes to pass, it will be a win-win-win for Channel 4, the Bills and the local hero – especially if the Bills actually win the game and erase the Pittsburgh memory.
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