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NFL Eases Blackout Rules, Looks To Change Stadium Experience

Hopefully the NFL's new "sellout" standards will allow the Dolphins to continue to avoid blackouts, even with crowds like this.
Hopefully the NFL's new "sellout" standards will allow the Dolphins to continue to avoid blackouts, even with crowds like this.

Last season, the Miami Dolphins faced something they hadn't had happen since 1998 - a local market blackout. Owner Stephen Ross, and several local companies, bought out thousands of tickets over the course of the season to ensure the Dolphins' "sellout" streak continued, and the fans in Miami would still be able to watch their team on TV.

But, the Dolphins were not the only team to face blackouts last year. There were several weeks when all of Florida was nearly blacked out of local teams games (both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars dealt with blackouts last year), while the sellout problem was a common issue all across the league.

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal this weekend, the NFL is looking for ways to turn that trend around.

Team owners have passed a resolution that starting this season will allow for local broadcasts of NFL games even when as few as 85% of tickets are sold. Under the new rule, each team has more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85% or higher. To discourage teams from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it.

The league has seen a 4.5% drop in ticket sales since 2007, according to the WSJ article, and they are looking for ways to make the in-stadium experience more enjoyable for the fans.

"The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn't," Eric Grubman, the NFL's executive vice president of ventures and business operations, told the WSJ. "That's a trend that we've got to do something about."

In order to do that, the league is also looking to mimic the "college" atmosphere of home football games. The league will now allow stadiums to encourage fans to make noise with video-displays, as well as allowing public-address announcers to rile up the crowd when the opposing offense is facing third down. The league is also in negotiations to add free wireless internet to every stadium, looking to improve internet and cell phone reception with in the game facilities, allowing fans to see replays on their phones.

The league is also allowing teams to place a microphone on players, which will allow fans, using a not-yet-released app, to hear raw feeds from players, adding a new dynamic to the in stadium experience. Previously, television and radio broadcasts were the only way to get access to these type of feeds.

Stadiums will now be allowed to show the same replays a referee can see during a challenged play, letting fans judge for themselves what the ref's call may be. The league is also considering giving fans in the stadium the opportunity to listen to the discussion between referees during replays, but Grubman described that innovation as a "long way off."

The Dolphins, last season, the team's third straight losing season, and sixth in the last ten years, averaged just 81% of Sun Life Stadium's capacity last season, the WSJ reports, making them the second lowest team in the league. The Cincinnati Bengals were last, with 75.2%. The New Orleans Saints, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, and Chicago Bears made up the top five teams in the league, ranked by stadium capacity filled last year, with all five exceeding 100%.