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Bad Sports Towns: It's The Economy, Stupid (Unless You're Atlanta)

United States Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) lashed out at the NFL's television blackout policy this week, defending his home market of Cincinnati, which is set for a sixth TV blackout of a Bengals home game this season today. Brown, citing the NFL's fat 60 percent increase in media rights fees, cast the league as villains for denying Cincinnati and southern Ohio residents their football while the league makes a mint holding games in taxpayer-funded facilities like Paul Brown Stadium.

And hey, after all, Cincinnati - home of Charlie Hustle and Who Dey - certainly can't be considered "a bad sports town," right?

If you're an Atlanta fan, you can't help but notice the logic applied to the Bengals' attendance woes. The fact a young, dynamic 8-6 football team contending for a playoff run can't sell tickets simply must be the economy's fault, and not the greater community's worth as a "sports town."

There's no doubt Old Terminus would never receive such an assumption by the national (or local) media if a 8-6 Falcons team failed to sell out a home game. For years, Atlanta's been unfairly branded as a terrible town for pro teams, never mind the fact that its current size is due in part the business acumen of native sons that caused millions of transplants to flock to the metro area, nearly nullifying ties to local franchises.

And also, there's the small fact that until messiah-like new owners rescued two of the franchises, every team in the city A) sucked and B) was terribly run.

I couldn't help but notice how casually the sellout status of the Falcons' Thursday night game against Jacksonville passed without note. Long gone are the days of woeful Falcons attendance issues, thanks directly in part to the refined machine Arthur Blank developed after purchasing the franchise from the bungling Smith family. After a lot of hard work and some painfully needed revision (from rosters to branding to marketing), suddenly Atlanta - the bad pro sports town - is selling out NFL games with regularity.

The Jags themselves have been hit with blackouts in a terrible season, earning the same criticism Atlanta suffered - that the community can't support a NFL franchise, and shouldn't have received the expansion Jaguars in the first place. They too have suffered poor ownership and horrific team management, and a new owner has just stepped in to try and turn things around.

Meanwhile, the Buffalo Bills will host Tim Tebow today, but the game will be blacked out to home viewers for a third time this year despite the team's 4-0 start (they're currently on a seven game losing streak). Must be the economy up there, too. Couldn't be that Buffalo is a bad sports town.

Brown's absolutely right - in thin economic times, it's a slap in the face directly from one of America's most powerful entertainment conglomerates to deny an entire community the viewing experience of their local team when a few thousand upper deck seats can't be sold (combined with the parking fees, outlandish concessions and the rest of the hidden expenses hoisted on fans).

But still, you can't help but notice which cities receive public defenses for empty seats, and which just aren't good for sports.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.