NFL Makes Concession on Blackout Games

Although the National Football League has said it will not lift the blackout rule, the league made somewhat of a concession Thursday, announcing it will make all affected games available in the local markets via tape-delay.

Beginning at midnight Monday, or anywhere from eleven to eight hours after opening kickoff, the league will stream the blacked-out games in their entirety on NFL.com. Fans who were prevented from seeing their teams play live will be able to view the contests at no charge.

All delayed Webcasts will be available for streaming for 72 hours. Re-broadcasts will not be offered for ESPN’s Monday Night Football telecasts, and while Monday night matchups generally sell out, the 2009 schedule does include home games set in at-risk markets like New Orleans and Minneapolis.

Per the NFL’s long-standing blackout rule, games are not telecast in markets when the local franchise fails to sell out its home stadium within 72 hours of kickoff. The rule applies to all TV outlets, including broadcast (NBC, Fox, CBS), cable (ESPN) and satellite DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket package. (NBC’s Sunday Night Football games will also be streamed live on NBCSports.com and NFL.com.)

Blackout restrictions also apply to the NFL Network, which runs a slate of eight games in the latter half of the season. Among the at-risk games on the NFL Net schedule are a Dec. 17 Colts-Jaguars meeting and a Dec. 24 Cowboys-Saints duel.

“We understand that the economy is limiting some families and corporations from buying as many game tickets as they had previously,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a statement. “These free re-broadcasts on NFL.com will allow our fans that can’t get to a blacked-out game an opportunity to see the entire game.”

Last season, only nine of the NFL’s 256 regular-season games were blacked out due to underperformance at the gate, but the recession has put more teams (and fans) at risk than ever before. Given the impact of the economic meltdown, it is believed that as many as 10 franchises may face insufficient ticket sales this season, including: Oakland, Detroit, St. Louis, Jacksonville and New Orleans.

While Goodell has the wherewithal to waive the blackout rule, he has already publicly stated that he has no plans to do so for opening weekend.