Color me embarrassed. Just a few hours after I wrote a piece defending the Colts marketing practices in an effort to sell preseason tickets - an article I still stand by - news broke that the Colts planned to blackout all home games with less than 100% sold tickets.
A year ago, this would have been a non-story, as 100% sales were the requirement to avoid local-market blackouts under NFL rules. Earlier this month, however, it was reported that, given a decrease in attendance during tough economic times, the NFL would relax its blackout policy to require as few as 85% of tickets to be sold to avoid local blackouts. It should be noted that teams who avoid a blackout with less than 100% of tickets sold will incur some financial penalties by being forced to share more revenue than normal with the visiting team for any tickets sold over the 85%.
So why would the Colts want to reject the opportunity to take advantage of these relaxed rules?
Larry Hall, the Colts' Vice President of Ticker Operations and Guest Services, gave these quotes to Fox59"
"We wouldn't have had season tickets available this time last year,"
"We understand what the NFL is doing and at the same time, as a small market team, we want to make sure that we protect that game day experience,"
"Every year we'll evaluate where we're at, but at this point in time after thinking through it, home field advantage is a big part of it. It's a competitive advantage on the field to have the stadium full."
The first quote from Hall seems to exude a complete lack of understanding of the situations. Yes, a year ago you would have been (or, you were) sold out. What has changed? It would be naive to expect no negative reaction from the fan base after their franchise quarterback, the reason the team never relocated, was unceremoniously cut due to injury - only to see him sign the follow week and apparently perform like his old self.
We won't continue to rehash Manning's greatness, the decision to cut him, or any of that, but you can't have this conversation without understanding just how much Manning meant to the Colts, the city of Indianapolis, and the fans. There was an emotional connection. Yes, most of us are Colts fans first, but Manning was ours. It's not very often that you get to cheer for the best ever. There is going to be an adjustment period as the team transitions from the Manning/Polian Era to the Luck/Grigson Era.
The best way to facilitate that transition? Let the fans see as many games as possible. How do the Colts expect fans to build that deep love and affection for this team of mostly new faces (no one is downplaying the importance of fan-favorites Robert Mathis, Reggie Wayne, and Dwight Freeney still being with the team) if their main interaction with the roster is catching the box scores - most of which will likely be displaying lopsided losses?
Let the fans see Luck's skill. Let them fall in love with Coby Fleener's personality and ability to run the seam route. Let them continue to be dazzled by Freeney and Mathis coming off the edge. Let them bask in the glory of the defense they've been clamoring for years, Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme.
The Colts justify the situation by saying they want to "protect the game day experience," that they want to retain home field advantage by having the stadium full. In saying that, they are admitting that punishing fans over 2,000 unsold season tickets is more important that reconnecting the Colts and their fans.
Since 1998, Hoosiers have gobbled up Colts football more than breaded pork tenderloin. With today's announcement, the Colts sent their fans to their rooms without dessert, until they learn their lesson.