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NFL Blackout Rule No Longer Applies To Modern Fans

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Calvin Johnson caught three touchdowns on Sunday, including the game-winner with three minutes left to lift the Lions over the Redskins. Unfortunately, nobody in southeast Michigan saw it on TV because of an inane and outdated rule.

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With 3:12 left in Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins and his team trailing by five points, Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw a dangerous pass into double coverage to Calvin Johnson, hoping that his 6-foot-5 wide receiver would come away with the ball. 

Johnson did just that, helping turn the Fourth and 1 play into a 13-yard touchdown and a 28-25 lead. Detroit went on to win, 37-25, just its fourth win in the last three seasons. Stafford, in his first action since Week 1, threw four touchdowns in one of his better performances of his short career.

Unfortunately due to NFL blackout policies, the only people in southern Michigan that saw it were the 42,000 or so at the stadium.

Adopted in 1973, the NFL blackout rule for local broadcasters was initially conjured up as a way to fill the stadiums on Sundays to make the league look better on TV. The league thought that barring TV stations from carrying a game if it wasn't a sellout would encourage fans to buy more tickets.

That was 1973. Someone needs to inform the NFL that fans don't think like that now (and probably never did).

The NFL is the only league of the four major North American professional sports that has a blackout rule tied to ticket sales. Can you imagine if the Pistons had to sellout a game or reach a certain number of fans to be seen on local TV? Nobody outside of the Palace would have seen them play at home once last year.

Even the Red Wings, one of the most successful pro teams in the past quarter-century, would have a hard time living up to that kind of standard. Six home games into the 2010-11 campaign, the Wings have averaged a healthy 19,065 fans a game, but that's still only 95 percent capacity.

And you may think, "Well the NFL plays far fewer home games than the NBA and NHL and needs to rely more on tickets sales to turn a profit." Well, not exactly.

While true that the NFL is trumped in terms of number of home games played, the fan draws are relatively similar. The Red Wings, for example, placed third in the NHL last year by drawing a total of 781,847 fans in 40 home games last year, which translates to Joe Louis Arena being 97 percent full on average. By comparison, the New York Giants finished third in the NFL in 2009, drawing 629,615 fans and filling Giants Stadium to 98 percent capacity.

The difference is minimal in terms of number of fans. And the Wings accomplished this by having every single one of their games televised to local fans.

In the world of cable television fans have more options than they did back in 1973. In that period there were three TV stations people had to choose from: ABC, NBC and CBS. Fans were forced to watch whatever was on those three stations or, God forbid, go outside or something.

Now with literally hundreds of channels to choose from, the blackout rule doesn't have as much weight because there's always something on TV. If the local team is blacked out, the league will usually show a different game (for example this Sunday was the Packers and Jets). There's a good chance that not a whole lot of people in the Detroit area cared about that game, and just turned the channel to something else.

And on top of that, modern fans don't think in terms of selling out a game or not. I've never met one person who has said, "Oh, the Lions are going to be blacked out this Sunday if they don't reach a sellout. I'd better buy tickets to help out!" Nobody thinks like that now, and I doubt anybody thought like that back then. 

And in this economically trying time, fans just don't have as much money. Detroit boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, hovering around 25-30 percent depending on what day it is. The majority of Michigan's 9.9 million residents live in the southern half of the lower peninsula, the area the blackout mostly cuts off from watching. The NFL is basically saying to those fans that it doesn't care what your financial situation is. Either buy tickets or you're not seeing your team.

Besides Detroit, folks in Lansing, Flint and Saginaw don't get to watch when a blackout happens. It's ridiculous that the Saginaw-Bay City-Flint market is blacked out anyway; it's at least an hour commute to the stadium from any one of those cities.

So if we buy Lions tickets are you going to pay for our gas to get there, NFL?

And let's face it, the Lions haven't been a decent team since the Clinton administration. The blackout rule punishes fans for having a crappy team. And the Lions have had no shortage of those, posting some of the worst seasons the league has ever seen in the past 10 years. Fans shouldn't have to pay inflated ticket prices to see a consistently bad team.

Even when the team does do something good, chances are the fans back home didn't see it . Three of the Lions' four wins the last two seasons have been blacked out.

The NFL is more popular than ever now and has surpassed baseball as the nation's pastime. If people want to go to a football game and have the means to do so, they will. The NFL doesn't need an inane rule that says you have to have so many tickets sold to see a game on TV.

Get with the times Roger Goodell. Lift the blackout -- permanently.