At last, fans of all NFL doormats have something to cheer about – the league is lifting its TV blackout policy for the 2015 season, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. The NFL’s blackout policy, which held that local TV stations could not broadcast their home team’s games if said games were not sold out 72 hours prior to kickoff, was implemented in 1973 by then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle as a way to bolster home game attendance.
The rule stood unchanged until 2012, after the NFL was forced to black out more than 10 percent of its games in 2010 and nearly 6 percent of them in 2011; the new policy allowed franchises to set their own attendance thresholds for blackouts, with a minimum of 85 percent attendance required. Though the policy change seems to have had its intended effect -- the league only blacked out two games last season -- the sport's overall attendance seems to have temporarily plateaued. As of week 12 of last year’s regular season, the NFL’s overall attendance numbers had yet to return to highs the league hit in 2007.
Monday’s report is the latest in a relative flurry of changes for the country’s biggest sport. On the eve of Super Bowl XLIX, it relaxed its famously tight grip on the reins of its digital video presence by partnering with YouTube on recaps and game highlights. Then, earlier this year, the Sports Business Journal reported the league would broadcast one 2015 regular season game – likely one of its least appealing matchups – online.
The move also could wind up paving the way for more live streams of NFL games. Last year, Fox Sports streamed more than 100 games, or almost 40 percent of the NFL’s regular season, to fans through its TV everywhere offering, Fox Sports Go.