Bud Light Bailout Stops Jaguars NFL Blackout

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (MainStreet) -- Call it the Bud Light Bailout.

For the third home game in a row, the Jacksonville Jaguars needed an extension from the NFL after failing to sell all of the tickets for their upcoming home game against the Cincinnati Bengals 72 hours before kickoff. The team and Anheuser-Busch InBev have teamed up to buy back the more than 3,300 remaining tickets to Sunday's game for 34% of face value and plan to distribute them to fans 21 years of age or older through local charities and radio partners.
For the third home game in a row, the Jacksonville Jaguars needed a ticket-selling extension from the NFL to avoid a home-market TV blackout.

It's pretty clear what's at stake for A-B here. Faltering ticket sales mean less beer sales at the stadium and fewer folks at home watching beer commercials on CBS . Anheuser-Busch Inbev already paid more than $1 billion to end MolsonCoors' eight-year grip on the NFL and become its official beer sponsor for the next six years, then had to shell out even more in Week 3 to buy 1,200 tickets at Bank of America Stadium and keep the Carolina Panthers from being blacked out in their home market.

The question is: Will they be rewarded for their investment? Jacksonville Jaguars fans were pretty upset in 2009 when seven of the team's eight home games were blacked out after fans stayed away en masse as a result of the economic crisis that sent Jacksonville unemployment percentages into the teens. They got so prickly about it that when the city and organization rallied for ticket sales last year, fans responded by selling out the full slate of home games for the Jaguars' 8-8 season.

With Jacksonville unemployment still hovering around 11%, the team foundering at 1-3 and the Jaguars' quarterback questions still lacking answers after quarterbacks Luke McCown and Blaine Gabbert went for two touchdown passes and six interceptions in the past four games, suddenly the Jaguars' ticket situation looks a little more shaky.

Don't blame the "greedy" ownership on this one. As noted earlier, the Jags organization is buying back tickets and begging for money from corporate partners just to keep the game on television. The team's ticket office is still posting ticket meters on its site to drum up interest and let fans know how many more tickets need to be sold to keep games on TV. Yes, the team raised average ticket prices 3.8% but, at less than $60, the team already has the lowest ticket prices in the league.

The team has tarped off seven sections and 9,700 seats each year since 2005.

Don't blame the fans, either ... unless they get really, really annoying about it. Fans citing financial hardship have every right to do so, but fans who point at the team's record and say "but they're losing" just don't get it. You know what other team loses? The Cleveland Browns, 10 out of the past dozen seasons since they returned to the league in 1999. You know who doesn't have home games blacked out? The Cleveland Browns. Know who else has spent the better part of the 2000s stinking on turf? The San Francisco 49ers, who haven't had a winning record since 2002. Know who else always sells out their games at a stadium a full 35 years older than Everbank Field? The San Francisco 49ers.

Jags fans are understandably prickly. Every time some town like, oh, Los Angeles decides it wants to build a stadium and poach a team, Jacksonville comes up on the list as easy pickings. Why? Because it's a small market without a whole lot of hometown corporate sponsorship that feels just a little put out about being squeezed for ticket money when it already paid $60 million of the $134 million costs of building an NFL stadium. How is that fan base realistically supposed to invest big season-ticket sales into that team when the NFL does nothing to assure them their team won't be taken away just because Los Angeles, Chula Vista or Vancouver decided they want to get in the game?

This leads the Jags, their ticket office and their fans back to the root of all blackout problems: the NFL itself. The league continues to stand by its blackout policy, saying it drives ticket sales. Thus far this season, it really seems to do wonders for tickets being sold for 34 cents on the dollar.

If Jaguars fans want the rest of the NFL and its fans to stop talking about their team's blackout problems or a potential move, a good first step might be to appeal to owner Wayne Weaver (because that's what the NFL is, a collection of owners with Roger Goodell as its mouthpiece) to push for the lockout rule's reversal.

Failing that, fans might want to turn to Jaguars buyback partner Anheuser-Busch InBev or other official NFL sponsors such as Pepsi , Papa John's or FedEx . When the NFL blacks out games, it takes eyes off of those companies' ads and even more dollar out of their pockets. If A-B is buying leftover tickets, that's a good sign the blackouts are something they'd hope to avoid. Convince enough well-heeled NFL backers likewise and more buybacks, if not a discussion about the league's blackout policy, may keep more home games on the air in Jacksonville or elsewhere.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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