If the Raiders are global, as owner Al Davis likes to say, then why aren't they on television locally?
The Raiders, 5-5 and in the thick of the AFC West title chase, failed to sell out today's game against the Miami Dolphins, their fifth blackout in six regular-season home games this year and 12th in the past 14 games.
The NFL mandates that all games failing to sell out 72 hours before kickoff will not be shown in their home markets. Leaguewide, 16 blackouts have taken place this season as opposed to 22 in all of 2009. The Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have accounted for 10 of them -- five each.
The crux of the problem for the Raiders is a season-ticket base that one source familiar with the situation puts at between 20,000 and 24,000, making it extremely difficult for the team to sell enough single-game tickets or multiple-game packages to make up the difference.
Andy Dolich, who worked as a sports executive with the A's and 49ers and has experience in marketing in the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball, said a season-ticket base that low puts the Raiders at a tremendous disadvantage when it comes to a blackout deadline.
The exception to the recent blackouts was Nov. 7, when 61,075 filled the Coliseum to watch the Raiders beat the Kansas City Chiefs 23-20 in overtime. That game came after back-to-back wins, a 59-14 blowout of the Broncos in Denver and a 33-3 home
"Coming off a loss to the 49ers, there was magic, and then magic again the following week," Dolich said. "But in the long run, magic doesn't work. That lightning-in-a-bottle period of time is gone."
Once that happens, Dolich said, the process of trying to convince ticket-holders to renew begins, "and that doesn't happen in a week."
The Raiders moved into a first-place tie on Nov. 14, when they had a bye and the Chiefs were drilled by the Denver Broncos. But one week later the Raiders suffered a 35-3 road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Today's blackout comes a week after that defeat, with the Raiders back in second, one game behind the Chiefs.
Davis was unavailable for comment, and it is against team policy for marketing or ticket sales employees to talk on the record.
According to one source, many clients have cited the economy as a reason for fans to stop purchasing tickets. The club believes that circumstance is beyond its control but makes the job of getting the stadium filled to capacity that much more difficult.
That contention was supported by interviews with several fans and dozens of e-mails responding to a request for thoughts about the Raiders' attendance problems. The other biggest factor being team performance.
Rick Banducci, a season-ticket holder from Vallejo from 2006 through 2009, gave up his tickets not long after the company for which he worked moved out of state.
"It was strictly a matter of economics," Banducci said. "I just couldn't make it happen anymore."
Blackouts are nothing new for the Raiders, who have had only 35.7 percent (45 of 126) of their home games televised locally since the franchise returned to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995.
Tickets were a problem from the start, with the original agreement between the Raiders and the city of Oakland and Alameda County calling for an independent agency -- the Oakland Football Marketing Association -- to handle sales.
But even during three division championship years from 2000-02, the Raiders sold out only 15 of 24 games in advance of the NFL deadline. The other nine were blacked out.
When lawsuits eventually were settled between the Raiders and the city and county, the club took over its own sales. Eighteen of 24 games were sold out and televised between 2006 and 2008 despite an 11-37 record.
But the season-ticket base continued to dwindle during those unsuccessful seasons, and though the Raiders won't provide year-to-year figures, attendance figures have dropped to their current state despite a promising offseason.
After a 5-11 season in 2009, the Raiders maintained a semblance of continuity by retaining coach Tom Cable (Davis has changed coaches seven times since 1995). They also had an NFL draft that received positive reviews from both its fan base and the national media, and they released an unpopular quarterback in JaMarcus Russell.
But critics believe the NFL's blackout rule has the opposite of the desired effect on ticket sales because it denies fans a chance to see the product. Dolich calls the rule "outdated for the world in which we live today." In the case of the Raiders, a team that could be on the rise, it denies the best kind of advertising to the very market that would purchase tickets.
However, the NFL has been adamant about retaining its blackout policy in recent years, with former commissioner Paul Tagliabue calling it a "bedrock" for the league's continuing popularity in terms of ticket sales. But in a visit to the Coliseum this season, commissioner Roger Goodell had softened that stance considerably.
"We always look at those policies and see what we can do to make it easier," Goodell said. "We know in this type of environment how difficult it is for our fans to come to the stadium."
Goodell also acknowledged the Raiders' need for a new stadium and said he likes the idea of a joint facility shared by the Raiders and 49ers. For the time being, however, the 49ers are hoping to build in Santa Clara, and Raiders CEO Amy Trask publicly has supported a stadium at the Raiders' current site.
While Oakland has a reputation for having a rough and rowdy crowd, Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's vice president of security, said leaguewide guidelines for improving fan conduct have been particularly successful at the Coliseum.
"What we found in Oakland between '08 and '09 was the biggest improvement of the game day experience of any team," Ahlerich said. "The Raiders embraced the program and asked for the league's involvement."
The number of games televised locally and blacked out each year since the Raiders took over their own ticket sales in 2006:
Year Televised Blacked out
2006 6 2
2007 6 2
2008 6 2
2009 1 7
2010 1 5