Colts owner won’t allow TV blackouts

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Relax Colts fans.

There aren’t going to be any TV blackouts this season.

The team announced this week that just under 1,600 remaining tickets would go on sale on a single-game basis.

Despite the team’s attempt to leverage the possibility of blackouts into ticket sales and some local media’s desire to hype that scenario, team owner Jim Irsay isn’t about to let that happen.

Because as much as Irsay talks about protecting the investment of current Colts ticket holders, there’s one interest that trumps all—his own. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s smart business.

It’s in Irsay’s best interest to sell as many tickets as he can, but it doesn’t serve Irsay or his team to have home games this year blacked out locally. In fact, it would be quite the opposite.

Coming into a season when some fans are still seething about Irsay’s decision to cut Peyton Manning and the conflux of factors that led the team to this point, it would be a public relations nightmare if locals couldn’t watch the Colts on TV. And it’d be a lot of lost exposure for the Colts—coming off a 2-14 season—when they need it most in central Indiana.

Some have pointed out that the Colts have eschewed the NFL’s new policy that if a team's home venue is 85 percent full, it doesn’t have to black out games. Irsay instead is insisting that the Colts adhere to the former rule—that games must be completely sold out or the game isn’t on local TV.

That shows Irsay is serious about this, right? Well of course Irsay isn’t going with the new rule. The Colts had already sold enough season tickets to meet that 85 percent margin, so what incentive would prospective ticket buyers have if Irsay lowers the bar this early in the game.

But if Irsay’s plan to sell more tickets fails and he wants the long-term support of this community—and you know that he does—he’ll buy any remaining tickets himself or broker a cut-rate deal to make sure a sponsor buys them. He could even look heroic if he gives them to local charities.

Consider for a moment, the cost of those 1,600 remaining tickets. For a single game, it’s about $100,000 give or take. How much do you think a two-and-a-half hour TV commercial in the central Indiana market would cost? A lot more than that. And I emphasize ‘a lot.’ Irsay would really only have to come up with the part of that money not set to go in his own pocket per the league's revenue sharing policy.

It would be completely foolhardy for Irsay to let a measly $800,000 stand in the way of letting 100,000 or so Hoosiers watch his team—and hopefully the Colts’ brilliant young quarterback—play on Sundays.

Remember, this is the team whose annual budget is in the nine-figure range. If you spend more than $120 million to put a product on the field, you don’t let less than $1 million keep you from showcasing it to such a large local audience.

It’s true, that Colts officials have to be careful about devaluing ticket prices. The Pacers have certainly struggled with that by having all their games on TV and deeply discounting tickets to fill their home venue.

But there’s a time and a place for everything. And this is a special circumstance for the Colts. Irsay is rebuilding his team. But he also must understand—fair or not—he has to rehabilitate his image and that of his team’s among many fan groups.

This is not the time to let local TV screens go dark during Colts games. It can’t happen, not for a smart businessman. It can’t happen without starting a major uprising among fans and former fans. It can’t happen without damaging this franchise’s image long-term.

That’s why come 72 hours before the Colts home opener on Sept. 16 those tickets will get sold one way or another.

Irsay may need to get his credit card out to make it happen. But Colts fans you might as well start getting your popcorn ready.

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