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Raiders’ home TV market could get shut out

By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Tuesday, September 7th, 2010 at 8:52 am in Oakland Raiders.

Preseason stats aren’t worth a whole lot, unless you think Michael Bennett (54 carries, 236 yards) is going to lead the Raiders in rushing or Bruce Gradkowski will finish with an NFL record 125.9 quarterback rating.

One figure was an eye opener.

The attendance for the Seattle game in Week 4 was listed as 23,957. It wasn’t in the stat books distributed following the game, but showed up in the final preseason stats.

There weren’t that many people in the park, but that’s hardly the point. The Raiders announce “tickets issued,” which means tickets that were actually bought and paid for. They don’t count butts in the seats.

So the 23,957 is roughly the Raiders’ season ticket base.

Ouch.

Preseason games are included in a season ticket package. You want the eight regular season games, then you pony up for the preseason games as well. At full price. It’s a great scam, but we’ll drop that topic for the time being.

Since few people in their right mind would buy a full-price ticket to a preseason game on its own merit, the attendance total for August games closely mirrors that of the season-ticket base.

I double-checked the attendance figure for the Seahawks game and was told it was correct. There were no typos or inverted numbers.

And it’s worth noting the Raiders have partial-season ticket plans available which don’t include the preseason, but I’m told that the sale of those will have a hard time preventing potential blackouts.

After seven consecutive seasons of 11 or more losses, an on-going NFL record, you can’t fault fans for taking a “show me” approach to purchasing tickets.

But the figure is alarming after what was widely considered the most positive offseason in the last decade. There was a change in quarterbacks, a draft which received mostly rave reviews and little or no drama of the kind that seems to follow the Raiders around in terms of bad publicity.

With a season opener on Sept. 19 against the thoroughly unappealing Rams and not in prime time, you can probably count on Week 1 failing to sell out in advance of the 72-hour deadline for local television.

The last three home openers have been televised, but all have been on Monday night against AFC West opponents. Last year’s opener against San Diego was televised and followed by seven consecutive blackouts. The last time the Raiders opened on Sunday at home against an NFC team, they were blacked out in Lane Kiffin’s debut against the Detroit Lions.

Oakland has been televised only 44 times in 120 regular-season home games since returning to Oakland in 1995, and there’s a chance they’ll be 44-for-128 when the season ends.

Even if the Raiders offseason success translates in the won-loss column the low season ticket base will make it difficult to make up the difference. It would be hard to envision more excitement in the Coliseum than the regular-season finale of 2000, with the Raiders playing for home field advantage in the playoffs under Jon Gruden. They beat the Carolina Panthers 52-9 on Christmas Eve and were blacked out locally.

Earlier that season, the Raiders returned home with a 10-2 record to face the Atlanta Falcons, won 41-14, and were blacked out locally.

The economy was much better in 2000 than it is in 2010.

A couple of points should be made:

– The Raiders case may be extreme, but they’re hardly alone, as reported by USA Today.

Even teams that made the playoffs such as Arizona, Cincinnati and San Diego are bracing for blackouts.

– Tickets and parking are expensive, and with the advent of HD television and DirecTV, watching games at home has never been a better option. If you’re talking sinking your money into nose bleed seats or getting a front row seat in your own living room, then tailgating with friends in the comfort of your own home is appealing.

– Without getting too deep into the socioeconomic aspect, walk through the parking lot at any Raiders game and you’ll find what is probably the most diverse fan base in the NFL. You see it in the faces of the fans as well as the delicious foods on the barbecues. It’s probably the best smelling parking lot in the NFL. Unemployment and a bad economy hits fans of color the hardest.

Privately, the Raiders realize that even with a return to .500 and beyond, they’ll probably do no better than one or two games on television, and the real possibility exists for a shutout.

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