Why The NFL Is Having Trouble Selling Out Playoff Games

In a potentially embarrassing development, three of the four NFL playoff games this weekend have yet to sell out.

As of this Thursday afternoon, Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati all have to sell several thousand tickets to avoid a local television blackout (unless the team swoops in and buys the remaining tickets at full price).

The NFL is a juggernaut. It’s a $9 billion business. 40-six of the 50 most watched TV broadcasts of 2013 were NFL games.

So why can’t they sell out the biggest games of the year?

Some of the reasons are specific to this particular year, and don’t necessarily reflect anything about the state of the league.

The three teams that have yet to sell out are located in three of the smallest markets in the league.

Green Bay (population 105,000) is the smallest American city with a professional sports team. Cincinnati and Indianapolis are in in the bottom seven in the league in terms of metro area size. So right off the bat, it’s a challenge for these teams.

The Bengals have flirted with the blackout deadline this year.

The weather stinks.

The Packers game is going to be one of the coldest NFL games ever. It’s going to be between 0 and -18 degrees.

It’s going to be in the mid-30s in Cincinnati, which is better than zero degrees … but you’re still sitting outside in freezing temperatures for hours.

This doesn’t apply to Indianapolis, where they play in a dome.

But this is part of a larger trend…

The NFL is better at being a television show than it is being a live experience.

With the quality of HD TVs and the big money that networks put into broadcasts, the experience of watching an NFL game is excellent. It looks great, the play length is conducive to a short attention span, and you have announcers and replays there to contextualize what is happening on the field.

People love watching it. It’s essentially the only thing that people watch live anymore. And the NFL rakes in billions a year for TV rights as a result.

Even ignoring the price of tickets, parking, and food, there are annoying things about going to an NFL game. The TV timeouts feel painfully long. You can’t tell what’s going on unless you’re centrally located in the second deck. You spend hours driving to and from the stadium.

When you factor in ticket price, you get an idea of why people would rather stay home. The average ticket to Sunday’s Packers game costs $US349, according to Forbes. The cheapest ticket is $US156. The average Colts ticket costs $US203 (cheapest: $US54). The average Bengals ticket costs $US142 (cheapest: $US56).

Is a family of four going to spend $US1,200 to sit in sub-zero temperatures when they could just be watching on the couch?

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