PHOENIX, Ariz. _ NFL owners voted Monday to lift the league's decades-long blackout policy and televise every game locally during the 2015 season.
The Bengals backed the idea that all games should be televised in the home markets even if they're not sold out 72 hours before kickoff. But they objected to the revenue-sharing mechanism the NFL imposed, viewing it as a tax on small-market clubs, and were the only team to vote against it "on principle."
"I didn't vote against lifting the blackout as much as I voted against they tied to it a requirement that teams that are low-revenue teams, teams that aren't selling out, have to pay a higher visiting team share," said Bengals president Mike Brown shortly after the vote at the Arizona Biltmore.
"I find that discriminatory. I object to it. I think all teams should pay the same visiting teams share. I asked if that could be separated out. There didn't seem to be any interest in separating it out. It was joined in the resolution on the blackout together with lifting the blackout rule. So just to be consistent with what I said, I voted against it on principle. If it had been just the blackout rule standing alone, I would have voted to terminate the blackout. But it wasn't."
Brown said he believes the club's attendance is going to be impacted by the move and although he's not sure how much, he does know they sold out only three of last year's eight games while averaging 60,703 fans in the 65,000-seat building. That was a drop from the 63,207 average in 2013.
But every game was televised last year when the Bengals accepted an NFL option to have blackouts lifted with 85 percent of non-premium tickets sold. The last time a game was blacked out in Cincinnati was the 34-10 victory over Carson Palmer's Raiders on Nov. 25, 2012 before 56,503 to begin a run of 18 straight TV games.
"The thing that is so screwy is that last year they had a higher visiting team share if we sold tickers over 85 percent," Brown said. "This year they have a higher visiting team share on tickets that we sell under 85 percent. I made the argument, where is the consistency? What's this mean? How does it tie together? Nobody spoke. They just accepted it. It's beyond my power to correct it."
The Bengals balked at the rule because it imposed a floor where teams have to share on at least 85 percent of the tickets and pointed to the existing sharing rules where two-thirds of the ticket revenue goes to the home team and one-third to the visitors. The Bengals believe the normal sharing rules should be applied instead of doing it with an 85 percent minimum.
"This is the first time I believe that this has ever happened, that there's a selling floor," said Bengals vice president Troy Blackburn. " We just said if you want to suspend the blackout rule, suspend it, just apply the normal ticket sharing rules, then go on….(Now) your minimum visiting team payment is at least 85 percent. So if you have to share 80 percent, you are essentially buying five percent of the stadium."
The Bengals feel the two-thirds, one-third split proved economic incentive on a variety of fronts.
"The home team kept two-thirds of the money," Blackburn said. "Second, from a presentation standpoint, you obviously want the game to be presented as high level as possible. Third, from a competitive standpoint, the loud crowd helps the home team. So there were significant incentives in place."
When the Federal Communications Commission spoke out against the blackout rule last year, everyone had a pretty good idea this day would come, regardless of the ticket revenue sharing.
"It's the way it's going. There's great political pressure. There's great comment out and about," Brown said. "It's going to happen. It seems our people are prepared to make the change. Obviously that's where it is."