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Not as many TV blackouts as feared

UPDATED (3:20 p.m.)...

The number of local television blackouts by NFL teams this season will not be as high as Commissioner Roger Goodell and other league officials had feared entering the season, while paid attendance at games will be about what had been projected and national TV ratings continue to soar.

Fewer than 9 percent of the NFL's regular season games this season will be blacked out in the local market of the home team.

When the season began with some teams struggling to sell tickets in the uncertain economy, Goodell said that as many as 20 percent of the games could be blacked out on local TV.

There have been 20 games blacked out on local TV this season. That figure could increase to 22 with local TV blackouts possible Sunday in Oakland and St. Louis on the final weekend of the regular season.

If 22 of the 256 regular season games league-wide are blacked out, that would be 8.6 percent of this season's games.

"This year's success is a tribute to the hard work of our clubs and the passion of our fans," Greg Aiello, the NFL's senior vice president of public relations, said Thursday.

The Jacksonville Jaguars had their first seven home games of the season blacked out in their local TV market before selling out their home finale Dec. 17 against the Indianapolis Colts to have the local TV blackout lifted for that game.

Under NFL rules, a game must be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to be televised in the local market of the home team. The league grants extensions of that ticket-selling deadline in some cases.

The 22 blackouts would be the most for the NFL in a season since there were 30 local TV blackouts in the 2004 season. There were 12 local TV blackouts league-wide in the 2005 season, seven in 2006, 10 in 2007 and nine last season.

But the number of blackouts per season traditionally was much higher before being reduced significantly in the previous four seasons. There were an average of 31.2 local TV blackouts per season between the 2000 and 2004 seasons. In the 1990s, 31 percent of games league-wide were blacked out on local TV. That figure was 40 percent in 1980s and 50 percent in the '70s.

Paid attendance this season is down 2.2 percent from last season.

According to the league, the average paid attendance at an NFL game this season through last weekend's games is 65,178, down from 66,615 last season.

That's about what Goodell and other league officials expected when they said before the season that they anticipated the drop in ticket sales in the uncertain economy to be in the low single digits.

National TV ratings for NFL games increased sharply this season. Ratings are up 15 percent this season.

Average TV viewership this season has been 16.5 million per game, according to the league, up from 14.4 million last season.

ESPN and the league-owned NFL Network set single-season viewership records for their packages of games. Both networks have completed their final NFL broadcasts of the season.

Industry analysts said during the season that the increased TV ratings for NFL games were a reflection of consumers staying home to watch televised football games instead of going out to spend money on other entertainment options in difficult economic times.

The NFL remains a highly attractive TV product. According to Nielsen ratings figures, the 22 most-watched television programs of the decade between 2000 and 2009, and 37 of the 50 most-watched TV programs, were NFL games.

By Mark Maske  |  December 31, 2009; 12:54 PM ET  | Category:  League , Television Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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