We spent some time in January suggesting explanations for the struggles of three NFL teams to sell out their wild-card playoff games. And now it appears, on the first day of the annual owners meeting, that the league has moved to strike one of those contributing factors.
According to Daniel Kaplan of the Sports Business Journal, owners voted to ban policies that required fans to purchase playoff tickets long before the games were scheduled -- and in some cases prior to teams clinching a playoff spot. If the team either missed the postseason or didn't have a home game, the money would be applied toward the following year's season tickets or refunded at some point in the spring.
At the very least, the net effect was teams holding the money of its best customers -- interest-free, of course -- for at least a few months in exchange for a product that ultimately might not be available. Similar policies generated considerable consternation among fans of the Green Bay Packers, Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, all of whom had seats available late in wild-card week.
Moving forward, teams will be allowed and/or encouraged to follow a policy the Seattle Seahawks used known as "pay as we play." Teams can still secure payment information from fans before playoff games are scheduled, but credit cards can't be charged until the game is confirmed.
This was a pretty easy fix and one that I bet most teams would have made on their own, given the struggles we saw in January. Like any big business, the NFL will happily gouge its customers as long as the market supports it. In January, the market put down a limit. That's how you hope it would work.