Stub troub': Multiple issues might lead to blackout

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Tom Miller
Thursday, January 2, 2014

There might be as many vehicles heading south away from Green Bay as there are heading north toward that city Sunday.

The Packers play San Francisco at 3:40 p.m. in an NFC wildcard playoff game. Normally, ticket websites such as StubHub and Ticketmaster would be busy with transactions of game tickets going for two or three times face value. Packer “diehards” would gobble up any chance to see their team in the playoffs and clog Highway 41 heading north on Sunday.

Not this year.

As of Monday there were 40,000 tickets available. For the first time in recent memory, the general public could buy tickets—playoff tickets—at face value.

The tickets didn't disappear within hours. In fact, as of Thursday afternoon, 3,000 still remained unsold.

Why? How could the legendary Packer fans that have created an 80,000-name waiting list for season tickets turn their noses at the opportunity to attend a playoff game at Lambeau Field?

The answers: Aaron Rodgers' injury, the timing of the ticket vouchers arriving at season-ticket holders and the brutal Wisconsin winter.

First, the Packers sent out playoff ticket vouchers to season-ticket holders right after the Lions sliced, diced and poured gravy on the Rodgers-less team on Thanksgiving. The chances of the Packers making the playoffs were slim, and if the team did make it, the chances of hosting anything but a wildcard game were even slimmer.

As a holder of two season tickets, the Packers wanted $600-plus by Dec. 4 to secure two tickets for the two possible playoff games.

In the past, season-ticket holders could get any money that was not for playoff tickets refunded in January. Or, if your preferred, the team gave you the option of applying the unused money to next year's tickets.

The refund option was not offered this year, as the Packers cited the majority of other NFL teams that do not refund playoff ticket money. Any unused money is automatically applied to next year's tickets.

I assume—and the number of remaining playoff tickets available this season back this up—that most season-ticket holders did not feel like giving the Packers $600-plus to use until the first preseason game in August (for which the Packers and every other NFL team charge regular-season game prices).

Multiply $600 (which is the cheapest ticket in the stadium) times the 78,000 seats in Lambeau and figure out how much the Packers “lost” in interest-bearing money when season-ticket holders threw the December playoff ticket vouchers into the dumpster.

At this point in most any other season, the Packers still would have sold out the remaining tickets for Sunday's game in one day.

Then Mother Nature gave the organization a cold, hard right.

The forecasted temperature at kickoff Sunday is minus-5, with wind chills hitting 50-below. If those predictions are accurate, it would be the third-coldest NFL game in history, behind the Ice Bowl and the 1982 AFC championship game at Cincinnati.

This is a true test of all Packer fans, and they have come up short.

There are not enough sweaters, long underwear, boots, hats, gloves and chemical hand and feet warmers to make me want to sit in an icebox for four hours Sunday.

For a championship game, yes. For a second-round game, maybe. For a wildcard playoff game, no.

This has all led to the possibility that Sunday's game will be blacked out in most of Wisconsin, including the Green Bay and Milwaukee areas. The NFL has a policy to black out games in the immediate viewing areas of any game that is not sold out 72 hours in advance of a game.

The Packer game was not sold out at that deadline, but the NFL has agreed to give the Packers until 4 p.m. today before pulling the TV plug.

Not having a Packer playoff game available on TV in much of Wisconsin is as unthinkable as having the Pope's Easter address at Saint Peter's Square blacked out in Rome.

If the Packers (through Ticketmaster) do not sell all tickets by 4 this afternoon, fans in Green Bay, the Fox River Valley and Milwaukee will be watching something other than the playoff game on their FOX stations at 3:40 p.m. Sunday.

“Maybe they'll show reruns of the X-Files,” Chris Lezotte, marketing executive of the FOX station in Madison, WMSN-TV, Channel 47, said Thursday afternoon.

Lezotte could joke about this. His station is not in the Green Bay home area, so Janesville and other Rock County customers will be able to watch the game whether it sells out or not. Green and Dane counties are safe, but Packer fans in Walworth County will have to do some traveling to watch the game if it is not sold out.

The WMSN viewing area extends as far north as Marquette and Juneau counties.

The roads might be jammed going into Montello on Sunday afternoon.

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