National Football League television blackout policies
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From 1973 through 2014, the NFL maintained a blackout policy that states that a home game cannot be televised in the team's local market if 85% of the tickets are not sold out 72 hours prior to its start time. This makes the NFL the only major professional sports league in the US that requires teams to sell out tickets in order to broadcast a game on television locally. Although nationally televised games in the other leagues are often blacked out on the national networks on which the game is airing in the local markets of the participating teams, they can still be seen on the local broadcast TV station or regional sports network that normally holds their local/regional broadcast rights. The league blackout policy has been suspended on a year-to-year basis since 2015.
Furthermore, the NFL is the only league that imposes an anti-siphoning rule in all teams' local markets: the NFL sells syndication rights of each team's Thursday and Monday night games to a local over-the-air station in each local market. The respective cable station must be blacked out when that team is playing the said game.
- 1 Getting around restrictions
- 2 Blackout radius
- 3 No opposing games
- 4 Blackout procedure
- 5 Criticism
- 6 Market and year of last blackout/non-sellout
- 7 Secondary markets
- 8 References
Getting around restrictions
Prior to 1973, all games were blacked out in the home city of origin and on any TV stations located within 75 miles of the team's home city, regardless of whether they were sold out. This policy, dating back to the NFL's emerging television years, resulted in home-city blackouts even during sold-out regular-season games and championship games. For instance, the 1958 "Greatest Game Ever Played" between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants was unavailable to viewers in the New York City market despite the sellout at Yankee Stadium (many fans rented hotel rooms or visited friends in areas of Connecticut or Pennsylvania where signals of TV stations carrying the game were available to watch the game on television, a practice that continued for Giants games through 1972). Similarly, all Super Bowl games prior to Super Bowl VII in January 1973 were not televised in the host city's market.
The policy was in effect when, in 1972, the Washington Redskins made the playoffs for only the second time in 27 seasons. Because all home games were blacked-out, politicians – including President Richard Nixon, a devout football fan – were not able to watch their favorite team's home games. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle refused to lift the blackout for the NFC Championship Game, despite a plea from United States Attorney General Richard Kleindienst. Kleindienst went on to suggest that the United States Congress re-evaluate the NFL's antitrust exemption.
Rozelle agreed to lift the blackout for Super Bowl VII on an "experimental basis", if the game sold-out ten or more days in advance. With the game a sellout, viewers in the Los Angeles area were able to see the NBC telecast of the game. Nonetheless, Congress intervened before the 1973 season anyway, passing Public Law 93-107, which eliminated the blackout of games in the home market so long as the game was sold out by 72 hours before game time. The league will sometimes change this deadline to 48 hours if there are only a few thousand tickets left to be sold; much more rarely, the NFL will occasionally reduce the deadline to 24 hours in special cases.
Tickets in premium club sections and luxury suites have been excluded from the blackout rule (indeed modern NFL stadiums have reduced general seating in favor of club seating and luxury suites, as this makes it easier to sell out the stadium and avoid blackouts, and this revenue does not have to be shared with other franchises), as have unused tickets allocated to the visiting team. Alternatively, some NFL teams have arrangements with local television stations or businesses (often sponsors of the team and/or its local broadcasts) to purchase unsold tickets. Teams themselves are allowed to purchase remaining non-premium tickets at 34¢ on the dollar (the portion subject to revenue sharing) to prevent a blackout. Teams can also lift the blackout on their own; this has occasionally been done in cases of stormy weather on game days.
The NFL requires that closing off sections be done uniformly for every home game, including playoff games, in a given season. This prevents teams from trying to sell out the entire stadium only when they expect to be able to do so. For instance, the Jacksonville Jaguars closed off a number of sections at their home stadium, EverBank Field, to reduce the number of tickets they would need to sell. EverBank Field is one of the largest venues in the NFL, as it was built to also accommodate the annual Florida-Georgia game and Gator Bowl in college football, and was expanded for Super Bowl XXXIX, even though it draws from one of the smallest markets in the league.
The NFL authorized a new rule loosening the league's blackout restrictions during the 2012 offseason. Under the new rule, for the first time in NFL history, the ticket sales provision no longer requires a stadium to be sold out in order for a game to be televised; instead, teams are allowed to set a benchmark of anywhere from 85% to 100% of the stadium's non-premium seats. Any seats sold beyond that benchmark will be subject to heavier revenue sharing. While most teams participate in the new blackout rules, four teams – the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts and Los Angeles Chargers – continue to follow the previous blackout rule, as under the 2012 rule modification, the teams would be required to pay a higher percentage of gate fees to the NFL's revenue fund.
End of FCC enforcement, temporary suspension
Until September 2014, the NFL blackout rules were sanctioned by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which enforced rules requiring cable and satellite providers to not distribute any sports telecast that had been blacked out by a broadcast television station within their market of service. On September 9, 2014, USA Today published an editorial from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, which stated that he was submitting a proposal to "get rid of the FCC's blackout rules once and for all", to be voted on by the agency's members on September 30 of that year, declaring such policies to be "obsolete". On September 30, 2014, the Commission voted unanimously to repeal the FCC's blackout rules. However, the removal of these rules are, to an extent, purely symbolic; the NFL can still enforce its blackout policies on a contractual basis with television networks, stations, and service providers – a process made feasible by the large amount of leverage the league places on its media partners.
Ultimately, no games would be blacked out at all during the 2014 season. On March 23, 2015, the NFL's owners voted to suspend the blackout rules for the 2015 NFL season, meaning that all games would be televised in their home markets, regardless of ticket sales. The suspension will continue into the 2016 season; commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the league needed to further investigate the impact of removing the blackout rules before such a change is made permanent. While the league never explicitly stated such, the blackout suspension will continue into 2017.
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The NFL defines a team's market area as "local" if it is within a 75-mile (121 km) radius of the team's home stadium. Therefore, a blackout affects any market where the terrestrial broadcast signal of an affiliate station, under normal conditions, penetrates into the 75-mile radius. These affiliates are determined before the season, and do not change as the season progresses. Some remote primary media markets, such as Denver and Phoenix, may cover that entire radius, so that the blackout would not affect any other affiliates. However, in some instances, a very tiny portion of a distant city's market area can be within the 75-mile radius of a different city, therefore leading to blackouts well beyond the targeted area.
The most notable example is the blackout of Buffalo Bills games within the Syracuse, New York market because a small section of the town of Italy in Yates County, containing a handful of people, lies within the 75-mile radius of New Era Field (a stadium that has failed to sell out numerous times, mainly due to the harsh winter weather the area receives on the shores of Lake Erie) while the entirety of the remainder of the Syracuse market lies outside of it. Yates County was previously part of the Syracuse DMA (Designated Market Area), but it was later transferred into the Rochester DMA because of exurb expansion with an increasing number of employees working in the immediate Rochester area living in Yates County and traveling to Rochester for events. Despite this, the league still enforced Bills blackouts for Syracuse and, because the Mohawk Valley did not have a CBS affiliate of its own and relied on Syracuse CBS affiliate WTVH to cover that area, the Mohawk Valley DMA as well (despite the fact that no part of that area comes remotely close to the 75-mile threshold); because of this, the Bills' blackout radius extended hundreds of miles beyond the actual stadium, well into Herkimer County. (In 2015, the DT2 subchannel of Utica's NBC affiliate WKTV affiliated with CBS, ending the Mohawk Valley's blackouts; should the blackout rule be reimposed for 2017 and beyond, that market will no longer face blackouts.)
The NFL does allow in some cases for secondary markets to extend beyond the 75 mile radius in part to help draw fans to attend the game. Some of these exceptions are in Charlotte, North Carolina, where many of its secondary markets lie outside the 75 mile radius (Greensboro and Raleigh). Others include San Diego, primarily due to Los Angeles (116 miles (187 km) from San Diego) not having had an NFL team since the 1994 relocation of the Rams to St. Louis (the team would return to Los Angeles for the 2016 season), as southern parts of the Los Angeles market are within San Diego's 75-mile radius.
An exception to the 75-mile rule is the Green Bay Packers' market area, which stretches out to both the Green Bay and Milwaukee television markets (the team's radio flagship station WTMJ is in Milwaukee, and select Packer home games were played in that city until 1994). Unofficially, and to a smaller extent, it also reaches the Escanaba–Marquette, Michigan market due to the presence of translator and satellite stations as well as extended cable coverage of stations from the Green Bay market north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. However, blackouts at the Packers have never occurred; the Packers' home stadium, Lambeau Field, boasts a five-decade-long streak of sellouts. The Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins also have sellout streaks that predate the current blackout rules, and therefore have not had any of their home games blacked out since 1972 (each of these teams also have long waiting lists for season tickets).
Similarly, no Super Bowl has ever been unavailable in the market of origin since Super Bowl VII 1973. Every Super Bowl except the first was a sellout, and, with the game's high-profile status, a television blackout is highly unlikely.
No opposing games
Another policy to encourage sellouts is, except in Week 17, no other NFL game can air opposite the local franchise's broadcast on the primary market's affiliate due to NFL rules or due to a blackout.
- If a local franchise's broadcast is being held at home in the early game of a doubleheader, the other network (which shows the single game) may only show a game during the late time slot;
- If a local franchise's broadcast is at home in the late game of a doubleheader, the other network (which shows the single game) may only show a game during the early time slot;
- If a local franchise is playing at home, and the broadcast is shown by the network carrying only one game, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may only air one game in that market; either early or late (the slot which the local franchise is not playing);
- If a local franchise is playing an away game, and the broadcast is shown by the network on which it is the only NFL game it is airing that week, the other network (which shows the doubleheader) may air both of their games;
- If a local franchise is playing on the road on the network carrying a doubleheader, the other network can air its single game in the same timeslot opposite the local franchise's game. However, affiliates in the local franchise's primary market almost always opt against it because such an action usually ensures low ratings. The "no opposing game" policy is a key reason why single game fixtures on the East Coast are occasionally scheduled for the late time slot.
Special exemptions are in effect when other events (such as the US Open Tennis Championships Final through 2014, the Major League Baseball playoffs, golf's Ryder Cup in 1991 and 1995, or the 2022 FIFA World Cup final) air on one of the two networks broadcasting Sunday games, which typically have a 4:30 p.m. start time (tennis or baseball), or will run through 1:00 p.m. (soccer and golf). The network airing the event is given the single game at 1:00 or 4:00 p.m. that week, and can broadcast games opposite the team that has a home game on their network at the same time during the affected weeks. This was most notably used by CBS for tennis, NBC for golf, and all three networks that have aired Sunday games (CBS, NBC and Fox) have used the exemption for baseball. Fox is expected to use the exemption in 2022 because of an eight-hour time difference between the Eastern time zone and Qatar, and the World Cup Final would start no later than 1 PM EST.
As of the 2014 season, these rules do not apply in Week 17, where playoff or draft implications are affected by many games. Because of the nature of Week 17 games with playoff implications, all restrictions except the blackout for failure to sell out games rule are waived, giving Fox and CBS doubleheaders for Week 17 in all markets, regardless of whether the local team is at home.
Each television market, including one hosting a game that is not sold out, is assured of at least one televised game in the early and late time slots, one game on each network, but no network doubleheader in the home market of a game that is not sold out.
- If a blackout is in the early game of a doubleheader, the network may not air a game in the late game slot;
- If a blackout is in the late game of a doubleheader, the network may not air a game in the early game slot;
- If a blackout is in the early game slot and shown by the network scheduled to carry a single game, the network must show another game in the early or late game slot;
- If a blackout is in the late game slot, shown by the network scheduled to carry a single game and is the only game in the late game slot, the network must show a game during the early game slot.
The New York and San Francisco Bay Area markets typically get fewer doubleheaders than other markets as those markets each have two teams, and one of them is playing at home virtually every week. The main exception is when one of the teams is idle, has its home game televised on the doubleheader network, or is chosen for a prime time game, as well as when the teams play each other on the network carrying a doubleheader or if a team is playing in the International Series. This policy affects only the franchise's primary market, not others with signals that penetrate inside the 75-mile radius. It also does not affect viewers of NFL Sunday Ticket in the primary market; all other games remain available.
Some markets, like those in Southwest Georgia, can see up to five (or even six) NFL games a week, with different network affiliates offering games involving the Falcons and Jaguars, and doubleheaders for the other conference's affiliate in the same market. Central New Jersey offers similar access to the New York and Philadelphia markets.
If a home game is unavailable locally because it is not sold out before the 72-hour deadline, one of the following situations will occur:
- If the blacked out home game is a nationally televised game on a broadcast network (such as on NBC for its Sunday Night Football telecast), where no other NFL games are played at the same time, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must broadcast alternative programming (the stations have to program the time themselves, since other affiliates are showing the game). This scenario is unlikely to happen since the 2006 NFL rule changes regarding reassigning game start times for Sunday games, known as "flexible scheduling." As a result of the rule change, Sunday night games are scheduled to have highly anticipated contests featuring teams in good form. As a result, the chances of a home game not selling out during the first quarter of the season, when there is still hope for a team to rebound after a poor start, are remote, and the only possible situations where this is likely to happen are on Thanksgiving or Christmas (Thanksgiving Day games for all three rightsholder networks are assigned in advance, and in years when Christmas Eve falls during the weekend (if on a Saturday, most NFL Sunday games, except the one Christmas Day game on Sunday night, are assigned to Saturday, and if on a Sunday, NBC's game is assigned to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time on Christmas Day – if observed on a Monday, so that game is assigned in advance).
The 2006 NFL rule change allows NBC and the NFL to reassign game start times for Sunday games only, beginning in Week 11, although the NFL changed this clause to Week 5 in 2014 (with the rule that only two of the six possible Sunday night games could have reassigned start times). Therefore, if a late-season match features a game with no playoff implications (both teams have been eliminated, or the game has no seeding implications), often with the home team already eliminated, and thus would be unlikely to sell out, it will be moved to Sunday afternoon in favor of a better game (a prime example being in 2010 when a game between the Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals was moved to the afternoon in favor of one involving the Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles, which ended up being played on Tuesday due to severe winter weather in the Philadelphia area; the Bengals game ended up being blacked out, and thus WKRC-TV and two other nearby CBS affiliates – WHIO-TV in Dayton, Ohio and WKYT-TV in Lexington, Kentucky – could not carry it).
- If the blacked-out nationally televised game is being shown on a cable network (such as ESPN or the NFL Network), all cable and satellite television providers in markets that are within the 75-mile radius, in addition already to the primary market of the home team (which is already blacked out), must black out the cable broadcaster's feed to customers in affected markets during the game (this is a condition of the channels' agreements with both the league and the providers). In addition, the game is not simulcast on a local broadcast station in the blacked-out markets. Local stations would still be able to show highlights during their newscasts after the game has concluded. In areas where the game is blacked out, ESPN and the NFL Network would generally offer alternate programming (ESPN traditionally switches to a simulcast of ESPNews). As ESPN and NFL Network games featuring the local teams are syndicated in the local markets under the NFL's anti-siphoning policies, the station that holds local rights to the cable broadcasts but cannot show the games originally scheduled to be carried would either run their own alternate programming or, if affiliated with a major network, show the regularly scheduled network programming for that night. During the pre-season, blacked out games can be aired in their entirety, but only on tape delay (generally after late-evening newscasts).
- If the blacked-out home game is played on a Sunday afternoon, all local stations inside the 75-mile radius must show a different NFL game during that time slot – the network typically chooses the game (typically a #1 game for that slot). In addition, NFL Sunday Ticket cannot telecast the game within that area. As already stated, the network scheduled to run a doubleheader can broadcast only one game into that team's primary market (usually the #1 game), which is designed to prevent viewers from opting to watch the other televised NFL games instead of attending that involving their local team. Again, the secondary markets would still carry a doubleheader. In some cases, the network-affiliated stations will switch time slots so that the network running the doubleheader can still show its featured 4:25 p.m. (Eastern Time) game.
- The NFL Mobile app for mobile devices periodically checks the user's location in order to enforce blackouts, and will not show a blacked-out game if the device is being used in the game's home market. Transmissions are also blacked out if the mobile device is currently within or near the home stadium.
In 2005, for the first time in its history, the NFL lifted the blackout policies for a team: the New Orleans Saints. Due to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, the Saints split their home games between Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Tiger Stadium at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, and the Alamodome in San Antonio, with most home games being played in Baton Rouge. Baton Rouge is a secondary market for the Saints and is subject to blackouts when games held at the Superdome carried by over-the-air networks do not sell out, since CBS affiliate WAFB and Fox affiliate WGMB reach within 75 miles of the Superdome, even though the city limits of Baton Rouge are more than 75 miles from the stadium (the Baton Rouge DMA is not subjected to a blackout when Saints games televised by ESPN or the NFL Network do not sell out).
San Antonio is an unofficial secondary market for the Dallas Cowboys (in that the Cowboys games are routinely televised in that area, but the area is not within the 75 mile blackout radius), and two of three Saints games in 2005 played at the Alamodome were not broadcast anywhere in Texas, as the start times for the Cowboys and Saints games conflicted on those dates. The only game of the San Antonio dates not to sell out, in Week 4 against Buffalo, was televised locally by CBS (on KENS-TV) as the Cowboys had a late game that day against the Oakland Raiders at McAfee Coliseum (Fox affiliate KABB, therefore, never broadcast a Saints home game in the San Antonio market, as the Cowboys and Saints are in the National Football Conference, and the Cowboys have a larger following in Texas).
The blackout policies extend even to the Pro Bowl; if that game is not sold out, it is not televised in the home media market. From 1980 to 2009, and again from 2011 to 2014, the game was played in Halawa, making the applicable market the entire state of Hawaii. The 2010 game was played in the Miami area (at Sun Life Stadium).
Due to decreasing ticket sales, the league significantly softened its blackout policy in 2009. Though the traditional rules still apply, the league is using some of its new media features to provide access to untelecasted games. For instance, the league will not subject its "RedZone" channel to any blackouts. In addition, complete live games will be made available for free online on the Monday (except Monday Night Football), Tuesday and Wednesday following the game, if the game is blacked out, using the league's Game Rewind package.
Critics claim that these blackout policies are largely ineffective in creating sold out, filled stadiums. They contend that there are other factors that prevent sellouts, such as high ticket prices and low enthusiasm for a losing team. Furthermore, blackouts hurt the league; without the television exposure, it becomes more difficult for those teams with low attendance and few sellouts to increase their popularity and following as the exposure decreases.
Conversely, the NFL has sold out well over 90% of games in recent seasons. Additionally, many teams sell out their entire regular season schedule before it begins (usually through season-ticket sales; at least half of all NFL teams have a season-ticket waiting list), and so there is no threat of a blackout in those markets.
Market and year of last blackout/non-sellout
- Washington (1968; before 1973 rules)
- Denver (1969; in AFL, before 1973 rules)
- Pittsburgh (1972; before 1973 rules)
- New York City–North Jersey (1977)2
- San Francisco (1981)
- Green Bay (1983)
- Chicago (1984)
- Dallas (1990)
- New England (1993)
- Cleveland (1995)4
- Houston (1995)3
- Los Angeles–Anaheim (1995)
- Baltimore (1997)
- Nashville (never)1
- Minnesota (1997)
- Miami (1998)
- Philadelphia (1999)
- Indianapolis (2002)
- Carolina (2002)
- Seattle (2002)
- New Orleans (2004)
- Arizona (2005)
- Atlanta (2007)
- Kansas City (2009)
- Jacksonville (2009)
- Detroit (2010)
- Cincinnati (2012)
- Tampa Bay (2012)
- Oakland (2012)
- Buffalo (2013)
- 1 The last blackout for the Tennessee Titans was in 1997, when the team was based in Memphis and still known as the Oilers.
- 2 The last blackout for the New York Giants was in 1975, and the Jets in 1977; in both seasons, the teams played in New York City's Shea Stadium. In the Giants' case, Shea was a temporary home, since Giants Stadium was still under construction. Both have sold out all of their games since relocating to North Jersey.
- 3 The last blackout in Houston was when the Oilers resided there. The Texans have always sold out in the city.
- 4 The last two games of the 1995 season failed to sell out after the team's ownership announced the team's move to Baltimore.
The league also designates "secondary markets", usually adjoining primary markets (generally areas within 75 miles of a stadium, but not having their own team) that are also required to show the local NFL franchise. Generally, these secondary markets must show the away games but are not obligated to telecast the designated team's sold out home games.
Their decision on whether to show home games typically depends on whether the NFL-designated local team is perceived to be the most popular in the market. For example, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is a secondary market to the Baltimore Ravens; therefore the Harrisburg market's CBS affiliate, WHP-TV, must show all Ravens away games. However, since there are many Pittsburgh Steelers fans in the region, when the Ravens are home at the same time the Steelers are playing, that station shows the latter game. Harrisburg is thus considered a battleground territory for the Steelers–Ravens rivalry.
The same applies for the Orlando, Florida metropolitan area, as its local CBS affiliate WKMG-TV broadcasts both Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars games. In some cases, the NFL has the two teams play at different times to accommodate the entire state of Florida (but only when CBS has the doubleheader, or if one of the teams is on Fox). WKMG lobbied to carry a Dolphins game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2005, but the NFL refused this request – as Orlando is officially a Jaguars secondary market (despite downtown Orlando being 141 miles from the Jaguars' home stadium, TIAA Bank Field, compared to 88 miles from the Buccaneers' home, Raymond James Stadium) the station had to carry the Jaguars game at Pittsburgh. This issue again came up in 2013, during Week 2, when CBS' late game window featured two games: the Denver Broncos at the New York Giants (which was a much-hyped matchup between brothers Peyton and Eli Manning) and the Jaguars at the Oakland Raiders (a matchup of two teams that were not expected to contend for the playoffs). Again, since Orlando is a secondary market of the Jaguars, WKMG was required to carry the latter game; the station notoriously apologized for having to show the Jaguars game. There have been exceptions, however; in the last week of the 2016 season, the Jaguars played their regular season finale on the road at the Indianapolis Colts, while the Dolphins played their regular season finale against the New England Patriots at home. Since the Jaguars were on the road, this should have meant WKMG would be required to carry the Jaguars-Colts game. However, the Jaguars granted a one-time waiver of the secondary markets rule requirement for the Orlando market, thus allowing WKMG to air the Patriots-Dolphins game; this is most likely because the Dolphins had clinched a playoff spot the previous week and the Patriots were going for home-field advantage in the AFC, while both the Jaguars and Colts had both been eliminated from playoff contention.
Two-team secondary markets
There are rare instances where a market will have two teams claiming their territory. For instance, Youngstown, Ohio lies roughly halfway between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, is within the 75-mile radius for both cities and is considered a battleground territory in the Browns–Steelers rivalry. Therefore, local CBS affiliate WKBN-TV must show whichever team is playing an away game. If one game is on CBS while the other is on Fox, both games will air (WKBN's parent company also owns low-powered Fox affiliate WYFX-LD, which is simulcast on WKBN's second digital subchannel).
If both the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers are scheduled to play at the same time on CBS or Fox and the location of the game does not matter, WKBN/WYFX will usually air the Browns game. However, on December 2, 2012, when the Browns played at the Raiders and the Steelers played at the Ravens in the late window of a CBS doubleheader, WKBN aired the Steelers game as the former was between two teams that were out of playoff contention, while the latter was between two teams that were in playoff contention (as well as the AFC North title), and was also the main game of the late CBS window. The fan base is evenly split between those two teams, with the San Francisco 49ers also having a small following due to team owners John and Denise DeBartolo York being based out of the Youngstown suburb of Canfield, Ohio.
Similar issues concerning the same market teams occurred with CBS affiliate WTRF in Wheeling, West Virginia, which formerly carried Fox programming on its 7.2 subchannel (Fox Ohio Valley) until 2014, when WTOV-TV took over the affiliation on one of its subchannels. At times, WTRF would run a game broadcast by Fox on the subchannel opposite a Browns or Steelers home game that aired on the main CBS feed regardless, and vice versa.
"Unofficial" and "temporary" secondary markets
Many markets serve as "unofficial" secondary markets for the league's various teams due to rooting interest in those markets. As they are not designated by the NFL as official secondary markets, they technically are not required to air any games, but will do so to please the fanbases.
For example, in Texas, virtually all CBS and Fox stations respectively carry the Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys when games involving those teams are on different networks. However until 2010, CBS owned-and-operated station KTVT in Dallas rarely aired Texans games unless it had no other option; but for the 2011 season, it carried most Texans games, except for a handful of conflicts. Fox owned-and-operated station KRIV in Houston always airs Cowboys games if it is not prohibited from doing so by NFL rules. In another example, Seattle Seahawks games are usually aired on Fox (and occasionally CBS) stations across the entire Pacific Northwest as the team is the only NFL franchise in the area.
The New England Patriots, especially since Tom Brady became quarterback, also have almost all of New England as unofficial secondary markets (Providence, Rhode Island is an official secondary market). Not only do all or almost all CBS or Fox (depending on the game carrier) affiliates in New England carry Patriots games, but the team's syndicated preseason broadcasts cover the entire region. Hartford, Connecticut is within proximity to New York, and stations in that market have sometimes aired a New York Jets game instead; however, this rarely occurs.
The New York Giants have most of the markets in upstate New York (with the exception of Western New York, which belongs to the Buffalo Bills) as unofficial secondary markets. Albany is considered an official secondary market of the Giants. In addition, Burlington, Vermont (whose Fox affiliate, WFFF-TV, has a coverage area that includes Plattsburgh in the eastern corner of New York) has become an unofficial market for the Giants, preventing the Patriots from having full control over all New England markets (the Patriots, as an American Football Conference team, still receive copious coverage on the local CBS affiliate, WCAX-TV). An example of this occurred on September 27, 2009, when the Giants hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Patriots hosted the Atlanta Falcons, both at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. WFFF-TV, which covers most of the state of Vermont and also extreme northern New York, broadcast the Giants game, as it is used to airing the team's games as a Fox affiliate. More recently, however, WFFF-TV has aired Patriots games over those involving the Giants when the former is featured on the network. Boston affiliate WFXT generally (but not always) carries Fox's Sunday-afternoon Giants games other than those that cannot be carried on the station because the New England Patriots are playing a home game at the same time. Providence affiliate WNAC-TV carries Fox's Giants' games unless the network is broadcasting a Patriots' home game at the same time the Giants are playing.
Since 1995, the San Francisco 49ers have had most of California from the Oregon-California border south to Los Angeles as an unofficial secondary market, although the Los Angeles area was a secondary market for the San Diego Chargers until the Rams' return to Los Angeles in 2016 (Sacramento is an official secondary market to both the 49ers and the Raiders).
An oddity of "temporary" secondary markets have occurred in Wisconsin, Washington and South Carolina as a result of a rooting interest in one particular player. After the 2007 season, quarterback Brett Favre departed the Green Bay Packers for the New York Jets. As a result, CBS affiliates WFRV in Green Bay (which was formerly owned by CBS) and WDJT-TV in Milwaukee were able to ask for as many Jets games as CBS and the NFL could offer to their viewers. In 2009, when Favre moved to an NFC North division rival, the Minnesota Vikings, Fox affiliates WLUK-TV in Green Bay and WITI in Milwaukee requested as many Vikings games on their stations as possible. This also occurred in 2011 in Seattle, where the market was able to broadcast Tennessee Titans games because former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was a Titans starter, and local native and former University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker was drafted in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Titans. Given these two fan favorites, local CBS affiliate KIRO-TV requested to air as many of these games as possible. In 2014, CBS affiliate WLTX in Columbia, South Carolina requested to change game assignments for Week 17 from the San Diego Chargers–Kansas City Chiefs game to the Cleveland Browns–Baltimore Ravens game; WLTX requested the change when the Browns had undrafted rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, a fan favorite from the University of South Carolina, start the game.
In 2018, stations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa started requesting as many Cleveland Browns games as possible when 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who starred for the University of Oklahoma, became the team's starting quarterback. The networks complied, except in cases when the Browns and Dallas Cowboys were playing at the same time on the same network; the Cowboys have enjoyed a large base of support in neighboring Oklahoma since their founding in 1960. Previously, the Minnesota Vikings were requested as much as possible by Oklahoma stations due to the presence of former OU star running back Adrian Peterson.
Since 2015, when 2014 Heisman winner Marcus Mariota from the University of Oregon was drafted by the Titans, stations in Oregon have carried most Tennessee games when they do not conflict with broadcasts of the Seattle Seahawks.
In all other markets, the networks are the sole arbiters of the telecast matches. However, they usually make their decisions after consulting with all of their local affiliates. On rarer occasions, some affiliates are offered a choice of a few games for a given time slot, if there is no game that stands out as appropriate. In those cases, some stations have allowed the viewers to vote online for their preferred game. In the early 1990s, New Orleans NBC affiliate WDSU conducted a poll via telephone during several weeks to select which game would be broadcast.
For example, during Week 3 of the 2010 season, Fox affiliate KMSS-TV in Shreveport, Louisiana conducted an online viewer poll in which fans could choose between the Dallas Cowboys–Houston Texans game and the Atlanta Falcons–New Orleans Saints game. The station is situated in the Ark-La-Tex region, where both the Saints and Cowboys have significant fan bases, due to the Shreveport market being situated on the northern border between Louisiana and Texas, including Texarkana, and the southwest corner of Arkansas. The poll concluded with viewers choosing the Falcons-Saints game, even though Shreveport is closer to Dallas than New Orleans.. Earlier, during at least part of the 1991 season; NBC affiliate WAVY-TV in Portsmouth, Virginia had call-in contests in which viewers of their newscasts could call in to request one of two games being offered opposite a game involving the Washington Redskins that aired on local CBS affiliate WTKR-TV, though if NBC had the doubleheader the game not airing opposite the Redskins game would have to be the one NBC assigned to the station.
On one rare instance during Week 16 of the 2016 season, KCBS-TV in Los Angeles was granted special permission to air a Colts–Raiders game in the 1:05 p.m. PT late slot while the Los Angeles Rams hosted the 49ers at the same time at home on Fox. Although KCBS had the single game and was contractually obligated to carry the San Diego Chargers game at the Cleveland Browns in the early 10 a.m. PT slot since Los Angeles is an official secondary market of the Chargers, the Colts–Raiders game had playoff implications as well as Los Angeles having a large Raiders fan base due to the fact that the team played in Los Angeles from 1982 to 1994.
Networks, however, have the ability to override a station's request; WIVB-TV in Buffalo, for instance, requested a New England Patriots–Denver Broncos game in December 2011, due to the fact that the hometown Buffalo Bills faced both teams in the upcoming weeks and because of the high-profile showdown between Tim Tebow and Tom Brady; the station instead received a game between the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles.
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All games are televised live, which can't help ticket sales for what amounts to practice games.
- "NFL Communications: WEEK 17 FLEX SCHEDULING" (PDF). NFL.com. December 23, 2014.
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