Are You Ready for Some Football on Your Browser? You May Have No Choice.

Published on September 11, 2009
by Peter Kafka

Lucy FootballPumped for some pigskin this Sunday? Me too. But actually watching a game this weekend, or most of the year, may be tricky for a big swath of the NFL’s fans.

That’s because the league’s blackout rule, which shuts off local broadcasts if the home team can’t sell out its stadium, may end up affecting about 20 percent of this fall’s games for fans in up to a dozen cities. No idea why NFL teams thought it was a good idea to raise prices during a recession, but they have. Team Marketing Report says prices jumped four percent, to an average of $75 a head this year, and the consequences have been obvious: Lots of unsold seats.

This week, the NFL announced that fans in blacked-out cities would be able to watch the games online–after midnight on game day after the game ends. So that’s a nonsolution.

My question: How many people who can’t watch their teams on their big-screen TVs will turn to pirate sites, torrents and the likes of Ustream to get their fixes?

All of the above are pretty good options if you have the time and inclination to find something that’s already aired on TV. But you’ve got to be a real devotee to put up with the technical hassle, crummy images, etc., that you get if you’re trying to watch something in real time. Then again, lots of people really, really like football in this country.

The big picture here is that major sports leagues and events are supposed to be the most impervious to the disruptive power of technology like the Web and the DVR. Which is why they command such huge premiums from the TV guys–they’ll pay the NFL alone $11.6 billion between 2008 and 2011.

But what happens when people have absolutely no choice but to use the Internet, no matter how unsatisfying that is? We may find out.

My humble suggestion for Web surfers with gridiron itch to scratch: If you haven’t seen it recently, or at all, go find North Dallas Forty, which remains the best football movie ever made.

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