There’s a lot of talk about blackouts and fan support for the Jaguars early this season. The team avoided a blackout in their opener against Tennessee, extending the deadline and selling just under 2,000 tickets in the last week.
What’s behind the blackouts anyway, I’m asked on a regular basis.
The league has their own rule that mandates that if a game isn’t sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff then it can’t be shown on local television. It’s supposed to encourage people to buy tickets to see the game in person.
The self-imposed rule is an extension of a law congress passed in the early ‘70’s. Before that, no local games were shown on television but the lawmakers didn’t think that was fair and said if it’s sold out three days in advance, it should be on television. When that law went away two years later, the league kept it up, hoping congress would keep their nose out of the NFL’s business. And so far they have.
There are blackouts all over the league and have been for decades. Almost no games in Los Angeles were ever sold out, so they were blacked out. And in Tampa Bay, the average attendance was around 40,000 so for a dozen years or so, nobody saw the Bucs. Games are almost never on in Miami. But here in town it’s somewhat of a new phenomenon.
People, me included, bought tickets to the games when the franchise first arrived out of civic pride. We figured it was our duty to support the effort the city made to get a team here. There was a lot of buzz about the Jaguars and the visiting team as well. When the team went to the AFC Championship game in 1996, the buzz continued. But for some reason, the Jaguars never seemed to be able to capture that. When the novelty waned, the team could only count on wins to fill the stands, and as we know, it’s a cycle that teams go through in this salary cap era.
And when the games don’t sell out, a segment of the media chastises the locals for not “supporting the cause.” I think that’s really wrong. People don’t want to be bullied into buying tickets. They want to go because it’s fun and it’s the place to be. There’s a buzz. But the Jaguars for some reason have always managed to have that “buzz-kill” when it comes to the fun people want to have.
I hear too many similar stories about trying to buy tickets or bad encounters with team administrators on the phone to think that they’re all made up. I mentioned once that they should be more “pro-active” when it comes to selling tickets at training camp. On hearing that, one senior Jaguars official asked me if I wasn’t “too old to be still having my (menstrual cycle).”
A friend went to the stadium and bought club seats season tickets and was asked “Why now?” he said, “Because you cut Byron Leftwich.” “What’s your problem with Leftwich?” the ticket seller snorted at my friend.
When the announcement was made that Leftwich was being released and David Garrard was named the starter, there was a “buzz” around town. But if you wanted to buy tickets after hearing the news at 5:30 on Friday night, sorry, the ticket office was closed until next Tuesday, after Labor Day.
The next week the office was open on the weekend and in fact up until halftime but the “buzz” was gone for many people by Tuesday. If you wanted to buy season tickets but not club seats, there aren’t any of those left, a good friend of mine was told. “But we have the four packs,” he was reminded. Only to be told, “but one is just a three pack because the Indianapolis game is sold out.” “So I can buy a season ticket but I can’t go to the Indy game?” my friend asked. “Exactly,” was the curt answer? As I said, I hear too many of these stories to not think at least part of them are true.
I know plenty of people who aren’t going to a game because of the “criminal element” in the NFL. Others need some time after a Florida, FSU or Georgia game to recover. The Jaguars haven’t developed enough of their own fan base here in town yet in order to fill the stadium. They need some of the Gator, Seminole and Bulldog nation in the stands to fill the rest of the seats.
Maybe they’ll get there, maybe they won’t. But don’t tell us we must buy tickets just because. It’s a party, not a penalty.