The Indianapolis Colts sold about 1,800 tickets during business hours Thursday for the team's home playoff game on Saturday, but that was still 3,000 short of the sellout needed to avoid a television blackout.
Luckily for Colts fans, the National Football League gave the team a second 24-hour extension to sell the remainder of its tickets and avoid losing the broadcast throughout central Indiana. The deadline was moved from 4:35 p.m. Thursday.
Per NFL mandate, tickets for playoff games are supposed to be sold out 72 hours in advance of kickoff to avoid a TV blackout. Unlike some regular-season tickets, which can be discounted to avoid a local TV blackout, the NFL requires playoff tickets to be sold at full price.
On Wednesday, the NFL granted Indianapolis its first extension due to the New Year’s holiday.
The Colts-Kansas City Chiefs playoff game at 4:35 p.m. Saturday is scheduled to be aired locally on WTHR-TV Channel 13. If the game is dropped, the local NBC affiliate would be forced to air programming that likely would have less than one-fifth the audience as the Colts game.
The Colts weren’t alone. As of Thursday morning, the Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals each had just under 8,000 tickets to sell for their home playoff games this weekend.
It wasn't immediately clear late Thursday afternoon whether the Packers and Bengals would receive an extension similar to the Colts'.
“I’m really not sure what the issue is, if it’s something league-wide or market-specific,” said Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan professor and noted sports business author, about the lag in playoff ticket sales.
The case of the Colts is the most perplexing, since the team has known it was going to host a home playoff game since Dec. 8, and that the game would be played indoors, said Mike Golic, co-host of ESPN's “Mike and Mike,” during the radio show Thursday morning.
Golic added that if the team was not able to sell out the game in time to avoid a blackout, it would be “an embarrassment.”
Larry Hall, Colts vice president of ticket operations and guest services, said Thursday that there were several key reasons why ticket sales for this Saturday’s game were slow.
First, he noted, season ticket holders had to let the team know if they wanted playoff tickets by Dec. 12, and it wasn’t known “what day, date or time the game would be.” Not buying playoff tickets does not affect season ticket holders’ ability to renew their tickets for the following regular season.
Also, many of the Colts’ season ticket holders are “snowbirds” who leave the area right after New Year’s Day for a warmer climate.
There are likely two other important factors slowing the sale of playoff tickets in Indianapolis this year, Rosentraub said. The economy is still sluggish, and the local sports fan base is spending more of its money this year on the Indiana Pacers, one of the hottest teams in the National Basketball Association.
“There are good people at both teams [Pacers and Colts] doing great work,” Rosentraub said. “But Indianapolis has always been a constrained market. Due to its relatively small size, there is just so much expendable cash to go around.”
Cincinnati and Green Bay also could be hurt by their market size, Rosentraub said, but neither of those teams competes for fans as directly with an NBA team as do the Colts.
Colts, Bengals and Packers officials are aggressively marketing their remaining playoff ticket inventory. Bengals players even produced a video urging fans to come see them play at home against the San Diego Chargers.
The rising price of NFL tickets and improvement in home-viewing systems continue to be concerns for the league and its teams, football observers say. This weekend’s Wild Card round of playoffs has brought that into focus.
“It would be a tremendous embarrassment to the league to have three of four playoff games blacked out locally, and likely, the tickets will get sold somehow to avoid that scenario,” said Frank Schwab, the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports’ website. “But there's a bigger issue here. Is this the most stark example that NFL fans aren't too excited to go to games anymore?”