By Kyle Gunn-Taylor:
Sports fans in Buffalo, NY now have a unified avenue to press their rights as fans of the Bills and Sabres.
The Sports Fan Coalition, the largest nonprofit fan advocacy group in the country has recently announced the creation of a Buffalo Chapter according to their website, SportsFans.org.
Spearheaded by former Buffalo Bills Media Relations staffer Matt Sabuda, the Buffalo Chapter’s first order of business is to pressure the NFL’s blackout issue with the Federal Communications Commission by creating a website called EndBlackouts.com.
“Fans in Buffalo know all too well how anti-fan blackouts can be,” Sabuda said via press release, “Now it’s up to us to take advantage of this unique opportunity to be heard by the federal government. Sports Fans Coalition is actually helping give fans a seat at the table.”
The coalition’s next step in getting its message to the public is a bold one; they will be airing commercials on ESPN beginning today and running through Saturday before Super Bowl XLVI and during the pre-game coverage on NBC Sports, Sunday.
“We hope that by taking such a bold step in buying TV air time, fans will see that we mean business when it comes to standing up for their rights,” Sabuda added.
In 2011, Bills fans endured three blackouts, and have lost 17-games to the blackout since 2000. At the same time, the Bills ownership is asking the public for $100 million for stadium improvements.
The NFL blackout rules state that if a team’s home games are not sold out 72-hours before kickoff, then that game will not be shown in the home market.
Buffalo is the second smallest NFL market, while its stadium is one of the largest. Ralph Wilson Stadium is the eleventh highest capacity in the NFL, with seating for over 73,000 fans. Combined with the open roof, harsh winters and the 12-year playoff drought, there is little mystery to why the Bills are struggling to sellout.
Congress imposed TV blackout rules for sports broadcasters in 1961. When cable and satellite became part of American life, the FCC later expanded the blackout rule to cover them in response to complaints from the National Football League. This prevented cable and satellite providers from beaming signals from other markets into blacked-out markets.
Two weeks ago the FCC asked for public comment on whether it should discontinue the blackout rule for cable and satellite providers. If the FCC decides to lift the ban, this could be the last year Buffalo fans would be denied watching home games.
Sabuda urges fans to let their voices be heard with the FCC before the comment period closes on February 13th.
Beyond the blackout rule the Sports Fan Coalition has an agenda that also targets; the college football playoffs, fair representation with public subsidies and ending professional sports lockout situations, according to the website.
With the Bills lease of Ralph Wilson Stadium set to expire on July 31, 2013, the time is now for Buffalo fans to unite and make their voice heard in terms of supporting a team that is engrained into the fabric of the community.
“We’re fine with public subsidies as long as the public’s interest is protected,” Sabuda said, “We would like to see more restrictive clauses in leases that prove the team’s commitment to the community in exchange for public money.”
Sabuda is calling on Bills fans to rally through the coalition and stand up for their rights as paying customers and emotional investors.
Locally, Sabuda has met with Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who supports the initiative. On a national level, Sports Fans Coalition Executive Director Brian Frederick has met with Congressman Brian Higgins.
The Buffalo Chapter has also taken a vested interest in ways to keep the Bills franchise from leaving Buffalo, a move that has been nationally speculated.
Should the coalition gain strength in numbers it will be difficult for the decision makers from Buffalo to Washington to ignore the call for change.
All fans have to do to support the group is log on to EndBlackouts.com or take to twitter and tweet their concerns to Matt Sabuda, @SFCMatt.