NFL’s blackout rule an unfair standard

NateSmith 2013


I didn’t even get to see the monkey ride the dog.

Entertainment featured during the halftime recess of the Dec. 22 National Football League game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings at the publicly financed Paul Brown Stadium, in fact, included a small monkey riding a canine herding sheep on the PBS turf.

A novel stunt, indeed, but one in which I did not witness first-hand, even though I was in the building that day.

Here’s a secret to which any football fan who’s ever seen a game at Paul Brown Stadium — particularly if that fan’s seat was in the upper deck — likely can attest:

Service at the concession lines is woefully inefficient.

I spent the entire halftime break in line for a slice of LaRosa’s pizza and a souvenir cup of cola (OK, a hot dog, too.)

It was a wait that would eventually spill into the third quarter, and despite my best efforts, I missed a significant chunk of the Bengals’ opening second half possession, an impressive drive that set the tone for the second half and effectively put the Vikes away.

Dozens of Bengals die-hards waiting in line for food and/or drink on the canopy level in section 304 missed it, too, because the concession workers lacked any leadership or sense of direction.

And if you hope to watch any of the action unfold on the mounted standard-definition televisions, be sure to take great care to find a TV that actually works.

I’ve purchased tickets to three Bengals games this year; two in Paul Brown Stadium, and the Oct. 13 game in Buffalo against the Bills.

Additional gameday critiques include an NFL rule prohibiting fans from streaming NFL Redzone on their Verizon mobile devices within so-many miles of the stadium, and a relative lack of in-game highlights and statistics from other games around the league.

For example, my wife and I attended the Dec. 1 game against the Indianapolis Colts. Cincinnati earned a runaway home victory that day in a game that featured plenty of scoring, but no down-to-the-wire excitement.

It may have been the only game in the NFL that day that wasn’t memorable in some way. Pittsburgh almost won in miraculous fashion. Baltimore and Minnesota traded fireworks in the final minutes. New England needed an onside kick to beat Cleveland. Detroit and Philadelphia played in a blizzard.

Fans at the Bengals game saw exactly zero fourth quarter highlights from any of those contests.

NFL fans have every right to demand their teams provide the best possible in-stadium experience, including concession service at least on par with what fans might expect at their local sports bar, and regular in-game highlights, which should include any video subscriptions on their mobile devices.

Fans should be entitled to hold the NFL to this high standard, because of the high bar the NFL sets for its consumers.

Since the early 1970s the NFL has valued its product so highly that before it will freely disseminate it to anyone with television service, it first requires home teams to ensure all the seats will be full.

Otherwise, the game is not permitted to be shown on television in the immediate vicinity, and instead viewers are usually stuck watching an infomercial for some kitchen wonder-product or a game between two uninteresting also-rans.

Not even DirecTV Sunday Ticket subscribers are immune from the dreaded local blackout.

Bengals fans are no stranger to regular season blackouts. In leaner times, it’s not uncommon for half the home games each year to get blacked out.

Despite a close call or two, Cincinnati’s recent run of success has guaranteed that virtually every Whodey! home game will be televised.

That run of success has actually landed the Bengals a home playoff game Sunday, when they host the San Diego Chargers.

Cincinnati ticket officials have expressed optimism in recent days the game will eventually sell out and end up on local TV. Businesses are buying up tickets to help the cause, but the game has not yet officially sold out, meaning the Bengals might earn their first playoff victory in nearly 25 years in a game that goes unseen in local TV markets.

Now, the Bengals aren’t alone. Surprisingly, both the Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are yet to officially sell out their respective home playoff games this weekend.

These facts are a testament to what it means to be a 21st Century football fan, when any self-respecting pigskin fanatic either owns, or knows someone who owns, a big screen, high-definition television with access to each game.

The explosion of fantasy football, with online games that now stretch right through the Super Bowl, means that, sure, fans might have a favorite NFL team, but they increasingly have a rooting interest in each game.

It’s not unreasonable to assert the average NFL fan has an average 45-minute commute to the stadium each way. So, if the game kicks at 1 p.m., and ends about 4:15, fans that drive to the game are virtually assured to miss most, if not all, of the NFC playoff game.

And it costs $30 to park. And the weather forecast is horrible. And if your buddy is having people over, and he’s got a big screen with surround sound and his wife is making nachos, why pay the high cost of food, gas and parking to sit in the cold and wait in the long lines?

It’s time to do away with the blackout rule.

Fans get out to see their favorite team as frequently as circumstances allow. Several obvious variables apply, including a given fanatic’s proximity to the stadium, level of discretionary income and whether or not the home team provides a compelling reason to attend the game.

This year’s Bengals team has been a thrill to watch, particularly at home where it has not lost. Fans have sold out every home game, and as many as possible will make the trip Sunday, but it’s not fair to stick it to the rest of the fan base who’d prefer to watch the game in above-freezing temperatures, should the game not quite become an official sellout.

Especially when, considering the time and factoring for expenses, an equally satisfying fan experience can be had watching the game on television.

And I’ll do it in the Columbus market, if necessary.

Authors note: This article has been updated to reflect the Bengals haven't won a playoff game since Jan. 6, 1991. An earlier version incorrectly stated how long since Cincinnati hosted a postseason game.

Nate Smith is an Examiner Staff Writer that strongly considered buying playoff tickets until the upcoming weather forecast was released. He can be reached at, or on Twitter, @n8smithExaminer.