ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The NFL will change its blackout policy next season, allowing teams to televise games even when their stadiums aren't completely sold out; however, it's still unclear how this may affect Bills games at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Under the old system, NFL teams were required to sell out their stadiums in order for their games to be shown on local television.
The new policy, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, would lessen the restrictions, allowing teams to set their threshold as low as 85 percent, meaning as long as 85 percent of seats are sold out, the game could be televised.
But teams can also set that benchmark higher. So far, the Bills have only said they are reviewing the rule change.
"We are reviewing it and we'll offer a comment at the appropriate time," a Bills statement read.
Kevin Clark, the reporter who broke the story nationally, said he expects the Bills will lower their ticket threshold to some degree, due to pressure from other owners.
However, Clark pointed out there is incentive for teams to set the benchmark higher than 85 percent, because when more tickets than that are sold, more revenue sharing is required. The league hopes that will discourage easy benchmarks.
Just 16 games in the league were blacked out during the 2011 season, but three of them were in Buffalo.
After selling out their first five games in 2011, the Bills did not sell enough tickets to Ralph Wilson Stadium for their final three games against Tennessee, Miami and Denver.
Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) held a news conference, along with leaders from local Bills fan groups. They encouraged the Bills to lower their blackout restrictions while also acknowledging it's a difficult decision for the franchise.
This debate plays out as the Bills and Erie County are negotiating a new lease. Higgins and others believe if taxpayers are required to subsidize expected stadium improvements in the hundreds of millions of dollars, games should not be blacked out.
The NFL is also working to improve the in-stadium experience for fans. Improvements include adding wireless Internet access, showing fans the same replays as the officials during a review, and creating smartphone apps that could let fans listen to players on the field wearing microphones.
Wall Street Journal