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TV blackouts threaten three of four NFL playoff games

January 02, 2014|By Sam Farmer
  • The forecast calls for a high of zero degrees in Green Bay on Sunday and a low of minus-18, colder than it was in the Dec. 23 Pittsburgh-Green Bay game, pictured above.
The forecast calls for a high of zero degrees in Green Bay on Sunday and a low… (Jonathan Daniel / Getty…)

Two days before the start of the NFL playoffs, the league is facing an unexpected and potentially embarrassing situation.

Three of the four first-round games have not sold out and their television broadcasts are in danger of being blacked out in their local markets.

As of Thursday morning, there were thousands of unsold tickets for San Diego at Cincinnati, Kansas City at Indianapolis, and — most surprisingly — San Francisco at Green Bay. For each a Thursday afternoon deadline looms, after which any game with remaining unsold general admission tickets will be blacked out in its market.

The only sellout so far is New Orleans at Philadelphia.

There hasn’t been a blacked-out postseason game since Miami played host to Baltimore in a wild-card game in 2001.

According to a Packers spokesman, the team had 5,500 tickets remaining for Sunday’s game as of 8 a.m. PT Thursday and was considering asking the league for a deadline extension. The NFL had already extended the deadlines because of the New Year’s holiday.

As of Wednesday evening, there were 8,000 remaining tickets for Chargers-Bengals. The Colts had 4,500 tickets remaining Thursday morning.

Blackouts in the NFL largely have become a thing of the past. There were just two this season, in large part because the league has redefined a “sellout,” requiring teams to sell only 85% of general-admission tickets to lift the blackout.

A couple of factors have made ticket sales more challenging for these playoffs. First, the weather. The forecast calls for a high of zero degrees in Green Bay on Sunday and a low of minus-18. The Colts game will be played indoors, of course, and a cold front isn’t expected to hit Cincinnati until Monday, although the forecast calls for rain.

Also, unlike in years past, when playoff teams and sometimes matchups could be predicted weeks in advance, this year’s playoff race went down to the wire with the postseason picture coming into focus only in Week 17. So fans had less time to plan. Had Cincinnati played host to Pittsburgh in the first round, for instance, that game almost certainly would be a sellout.

The Packers and Eagles didn't lock up playoff berths until winning their finales, so they had to start from scratch in selling tickets.

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