Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans hoping for relief from the NFL's blackout rule received some encouraging news Wednesday from commissioner Roger Goodell during a conference call with season-ticket holders.
Though he offered no promise of imminent change, Goodell said he was on the side of those hoping to see the rule amended in a way that will make it easier for teams to sell out games and lift local TV blackouts.
"We need to continue to look at it and make modifications, whether they be in some of our policies with regard to discounting of tickets or comp tickets (or other options)," Goodell said. "We'll continue to do that in a way that I think is responsive to the economic conditions that our fans are going through."
Goodell spent nearly 30 minutes fielding calls from Bucs season-ticket holders, including one who said he was praying for Goodell as he tries to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement that will end a player lockout in its third month.
"I appreciate your prayers; we'll take any help we can get,'' said Goodell, who refused to get into specifics but said both sides "are working hard to solve (our) issues.''
The NFL's blackout rule, which prohibits a game from being shown on local television if it is not sold out 72 hours before its scheduled kickoff, became a big issue for Bucs fans last season, when each of the team's eight regular-season home games was blacked out in the Tampa Bay market.
Goodell said the blackout rule is an important part of the league's success because it helps provide a balance between stadium attendance and television ratings that allow games to be seen on free TV.
"That's what the blackout policy really is,'' Goodell said. "It's a balance between making sure we can keep our stadiums full. But, also, we are the only league to keep our game on free television in each of the home markets. And that's incredibly important to us. Not only to the league, because it's been part of our success and growth, but also because we can appeal to a broader fan base.
"So, it's so important when you're watching a game on television to make sure that you're doing that in front of a full stadium that can show off the passion and excitement of Buccaneer fans.''
The possibility of an 18-game regular season is among the issues players and owners are wrestling with, Goodell said. It also was the topic of a question from a Bucs season-ticket holder.
The 18-game schedule, Goodell said, is one approach the league would like to take toward creating a better value for season-ticket holders who are asked to pay the same price for regular-season games as preseason games.
"But if we do it, we want to do it right,'' Goodell said. "That means we have to do it with a lot of considerations for player safety (and) the quality of the game and how we keep increasing that value for our season-ticket holders.''
Another way to increase the value of a season ticket, Goodell said, is to offer more access to players, coaches and team executives.
"I think it's important that in this kind of environment, both from an economic standpoint and from a competitive standpoint, (we) bring you closer to our game and allow you greater access to the people that make it special,'' Goodell said.
More than one Bucs season-ticket holder told Goodell the pace of the collective bargaining talks have left them feeling anything but special and that fans are being taken for granted.
Goodell tried to assure that was not the case. The rising cost of attending games, he said, is one reason the league is working hard to hammer out a favorable CBA.
"We can't continue to shift the cost, whether it's the rising player cost or the rising cost of operating an NFL franchise, on to our fans,'' he said. "That's why we're trying to get a better economic model.
"And I think everyone understands that. You are not being left out of the equation. The fans are a big part of that equation and a big part of the success of NFL football.''