Richard Blumenthal is siding with the Cheeseheads.
With the specter of local television blackouts hanging over three of the four Wild Card games on the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs because of sluggish ticket sales, the senior U.S. senator from Connecticut on Friday renewed his criticism of the controversial policy that requires home teams to sellout their stadiums at least 72 hours before kickoff.
“These blackouts are anti-consumer and simply defy fans’ rights to fair access,” Blumenthal told Hearst Connecticut Newspapers. “The price of tickets has soared. The joke that the NFL has become the ‘no fans league’ is fast becoming an unfortunately reality.”
A request for comment from the NFL was left Friday with a league executive.
Despite 319 consecutive sellouts in the league’s smallest market, the NFC North Champion Green Bay Packers entered the week with thousands of unsold tickets, putting one of the league’s most storied franchises and its only community-owned team at risk of a blackout Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
Both the Packers and the Colts were able to avert the embarrassment of a blackout on Friday, however, with corporate sponsors stepping in to buy unsold tickets to donate to military families. The Cincinnati Bengals are still on the clock. In all three cases, the NFL agreed to extend its deadline for imposing a blackout.
“To think that Green Bay would first of all not be sold out and then would blackout the game is just unthinkable,” Blumenthal said. “Certainly it’s a thumb in the eye of fans who theoretically own the team.”
In November, Blumenthal and fellow Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced the Furthering Access and Networks for Sports (FANS) Act of 2013, which would rescind the NFL’s longstanding anti-trust exemption if it does not end its blackout policy.
“For three of these games to have so many tickets remaining so close to the game in hometowns that have traditionally been supportive ought to send a signal to the NFL,” Blumenthal said.
The last NFL playoff game to be blacked out in the home market was in 2002 when the Miami Dolphins hosted the Baltimore Ravens.
For the first time Friday, Blumenthal publicly weighed in on another public relations headache for the NFL — the naming controversy dogging the Washington Redskins.
“I’m inclined to think they should rename the team, but I’m focusing on the blackout issue for right now,” Blumenthal said.