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Report: NFL to allow more flexibility in blackout restrictions

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
Games could be televised in local markets even when as few as 85 percent of tickets are sold. (Getty Images)

Earlier Saturday we mentioned a Wall Street Journal story that spelled out the various ways in which the NFL would try to make the in-game stadium experience more enjoyable for fans. Perhaps the biggest revelation: The 2012 season will include less stringent blackout restrictions. The owners passed a resolution that will now allow for games to be televised in local markets even when as few as 85 percent of tickets are sold.

The details via the Journal's Kevin Clark:

"Under the new rule, each team has more flexibility to establish its own seat-sales benchmark as long as it is 85 percent or higher," Clark wrote Friday. "To discourage teams from setting easy benchmarks, teams will be forced to share more of the revenue when they exceed it.

"Because of slumping stadium attendance, long-standing season-ticket waiting lists have disappeared in several cities. Full-season tickets are readily available on the websites of 20 of the league's 32 teams."

The impetus for the change? Some teams want to expand seating in their venues but don't want to be victimized by the blackout rules. Plus, as Clark notes, it's not like blackouts were a regular occurrence. It happened in just six percent of games last season (16 of 256 games), even though that sometimes results in sponsors buying up unsold seats to avoid the blackout.

A big part of the issue is that attendance is down 4.5 percent since 2007 (ticket sales have declined in each of the past five years, too). The NFL experience from your couch has become so good that many fans aren't willing to give that up to deal with traffic, weather, and tens of thousands of other people (some of whom could be belligerent, drunk or both) -- not to mention the ever-rising ticket prices. Since 2008, the average ticket is up $5.14 to $77.34, according to Team Market Report. Add a beer ($7.20), hot dog ($4.77) and parking ($25.77) and the Joe the Fan is looking at $115 for three hours of entertainment.

NFL executive vice president of ventures and business operations Eric Grubman confirms as much to Clark. "The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn't," he said. "That's a trend that we've got to do something about."

While relaxing the blackout rules will have the opposite effect, the league has some new in-stadium enhancements, too. Fans will now be able to see the same replays as the officials during a review, there will be Wi-Fi in every stadium, in addition to smartphone apps that could let fans listen to players on the field wearing microphones.

Down the road, fans could even eavesdrop on conversations between officials during controversial calls. Grubman calls that a "long way off" but acknowledges that "You have to be able to make the game open, you have to give explanations, you have to give information." And in terms of putting bodies in seats, it can't hurt.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

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