Originally published September 29, 2011 at 3:09 p.m., updated September 30, 2011 at 7:18 p.m.
Sunday's game against the Dolphins will be blacked out due to NFL policy.
If you were looking forward to watching the San Diego Chargers battle the Miami Dolphins on television this weekend, you're out of luck. The local broadcast will be blacked out after the Chargers fell short of a sell-out by 6,500 tickets.
NFL Fan Index
When listening to the catchy “San Diego Super Chargers” theme song, it’s almost impossible not to get up and dance. It’s often played in Qualcomm Stadium to get fans charged up.
But its powers may be limited. Because no matter how catchy the song, fans appear to be staying away from the Q. Sunday’s game will be just the third home game of the season and it will be blacked out locally. The team’s second home game had faced the same possibility before the blackout was lifted at the last minute.
So what’s going on? Sports talk show host Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton put that question to his listeners recently on XX1090 Sports radio.
“Stay there, stay there, I want to hear from you, why can’t the Chargers sell out their games?” he implored listeners. Callers lit up the phone lines with their answers.
“Hacksaw, I’m just trying to scrub up enough money to fill-up my gas tank, it’s an economy thing,” said Mark in La Mesa.
Kevin in Chula Vista agreed: “First and foremost I think with the economy the way it is, ticket prices are too expensive.”
And it’s true that going to a Chargers game is not cheap. The NFL Fan Cost Index from sports publisher Team Marketing Report puts the average cost of taking a family of four to a Chargers game at about $432. That’s slightly above the NFL average of $427, but down roughly 1 percent from 2010.
Hamilton said fans are angry games cost so much.
“I think the second piece of the equation is unemployment in the state of California,” he said. “Spendable income is very different than it was five years ago, 10 years ago.”
California’s unemployment rate is currently 12.1 percent. Hamilton said that combined with dissatisfaction over the way the team is managed and coached and the fact that the NFL has made their television product so good means fans are staying out of the stadium and at home on their couches. San Diego transplants loyal to other teams don’t help either.
But don’t expect the Chargers’ owners to go out of their way to change anything.
The NFL negotiates its TV contract on a national level, and splits billions of dollars in TV revenue evenly among all the teams. So the Chargers make money whether or not the game gets aired locally. Some teams never have to deal with blackouts because demand for their tickets stretches years in the future. But University of Michigan sports management professor Rodney Fort said San Diego’s situation isn’t special; in fact he said it could be worse.
“There’s always somebody in the NFL that’s having, what you can refer to as the blackout blue, right?” he said. “At one point in time the (Seattle) Seahawks blacked out six of their home games, six in a row. So it’s not unique to San Diego.”
But what may be different about the Chargers is their current effort to get a new stadium built using some public money. The high cost of the project, coupled with uncertainty about how to finance it, has many people thinking the team will bolt for Los Angeles in the next few years. Plans for a stadium in L.A. are moving ahead, while plans in San Diego are still in the conceptual stage. But Fort isn’t buying that the Chargers are heading north.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen in 10,000 years,” he said.
Fort said the money the NFL owners could get by having an expansion team buy into the league would likely be too much to pass up.
“I don’t know exactly what the franchise price will be for a new NFL team,” he said. “It was $800 million for Houston. I’m going to bet it’ll be a billion dollars."
Following that logic, the Chargers could be in San Diego for a long time to come. And that means we may be dealing with more television blackouts, unless something changes about the San Diego Super Chargers.
The Chargers could have lifted Sunday's blackout by paying 34 cents on the dollar for the unsold tickets.