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Threat of blackout overshadows Bengals' hopes for postseason success

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CINCINNATI -- Football fans in the Tri-State and across the country might not be able to watch their favorite teams play in the first-round of the NFL playoffs due to underperforming ticket sales.

“There’s what, 12 teams left? You think you’d be able to sell out a playoff game,” said Bengals cornerback Terence Newman, whose team is trying to earn its first playoff win in 23 years.

The Bengals home playoff game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday will be blacked out if the organization doesn’t find a way to sell thousands of tickets by the NFL's 1 p.m. Thursday deadline.

RELATED: Could Chad Johnson rescue fans from blackout?

“There are less than 10,000 tickets remaining,” Jeff Berding, director of sales and public affairs for the Bengals, said Wednesday afternoon. “We’re moving tickets, but we’re not confident we’re moving them quickly enough to get the game considered a sell out.”

As of 5 p.m Wednesday, that total was down to about 8,000 tickets.

The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are also struggling to sell enough tickets to ensure local fans can watch their games from the comfort of their sofa or a barstool at their favorite neighborhood sports bar.

If the teams don’t manage to sell 100 percent of their reserve tickets by the deadline, those games will not be on TV in their respective home markets, according to a league rule. Club seats and suites do not count toward ticket sales.

While all three of those teams played in front of capacity crowds during the regular season, selling tickets to wild-card playoff games is a different animal, Berding said.

“NFL wild-card games are notoriously difficult to sell out when they’re not in the biggest markets in the United States,” he said. “When you get into the smaller markets these games become difficult to sell out, as evidenced by the struggles in Indianapolis and Green Bay.”

Although the NFC matchup between the Eagles and Saints in Philadelphia sold out the same day tickets went on sale, both the Colts and the Packers had thousands of tickets remaining for their games as of Wednesday afternoon.

It was reported early Wednesday that the Colts needed to sell upwards of 17,000 tickets.

While the Packers still had thousands available, the number has fallen steadily since the team secured a playoff berth in their regular-season finale. Having quarterback Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup hasn’t hurt sales, either.

In order to avoid the embarrassment of a playoff game blackout, the Bengals could apply for a ticket-sale extension, something the NFL has already granted the Colts. The extension would give the Bengals extra time to procure a sellout.

One way they’d do that is reaching out to corporations and organizations across the region.

“Starting (Thursday), we will be reaching out to some of the larger companies in Cincinnati to see if they have an interest in buying tickets," Berding said.

But they still have to sell the tickets, which could be difficult given the timing of the format of the wild-card round.

“Teams don’t know who they’re going to play or when they’re going to play until Sunday night, so you have a quick week turnaround to sell these tickets,” said Berding.

Confusion over the dynamics of the playoff set up adds to the problem, he added.

“I certainly think that because we’ve been able to sell out all the games (this season) there’s likely some sentiment that the game will be sold out or it’s a playoff game that can’t be blacked out. But neither of those is true,” Berding said.

One of the most recent examples of a playoff game being blacked is the Dolphins-Ravens game played in Miami a decade ago.

Ticket price tag is another factor.

The only remaining Bengals tickets are $86 and those in Indianapolis are going for a similar price, which makes them a luxury not everyone can afford at the tail end of the holiday season.

“With the New Year’s holiday in the middle of the week and coming right on the heels of Christmas, where families have spent potentially limited resources on a memorable day for their family, buying playoff tickets can be tough,” Berding said.

Kevin Arey and his wife Missi are two of those people. The couple has two young children, both with birthdays in early January, so their support of Who Dey nation has had to come from their comfort of their Fort Thomas, Ky. home for the past few years.

“We haven’t been to a game in a (few years) because of money, the weather and … our two kids,” said Kevin Arey, a Procter & Gamble employee.

One person who said he planned to purchase tickets regardless of the price is Jered Ryan, who held Bengals season tickets from 2006 to 2010.

“I love going to Bengals games and I haven’t felt this good about a possible playoff victory since 2005 against the Steelers. Due to this confidence, I cannot miss this game,” Ryan said.

“Now, given the impending blackout, I have no choice but to spend the money to get tickets.”

Some fans may feel as though the organization is threatening them into buying tickets so the club can make more money. Berding said that’s not the case and the NFL dictates ticket prices for the playoffs.

“All the revenue from playoff ticket sales goes to the National Football League. This is not like a college bowl game where the universities who play in the bowls have some financial bonanza. We’re playing for pride.”

That pride extends beyond that of what takes place on the football field. Berding, members of the organization and other city and business officials believe the game is a way to highlight the city of Cincinnati itself.

Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley took part in a Bengals press conference to ask for fans to come out. Players on the team even made a video exhorting fans to come to the game.

“We want to be able to show this team and the city of Cincinnati to 30 million people on national TV,” Berding said.

The game between the Bengals and the Chargers is the only one scheduled for its time slot Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m.

“The game goes on whether there are zero people in the stands or 60,000. We just have to keep playing and ignore it,” said Bengals wide receiver Brandon Tate. “We just need to focus on us and what we need to accomplish.”

Tate has been in Cincinnati for the past three seasons. The past two seasons ended in playoff road losses in Houston.

In 2013, the fans in the stands have been “electric” and they’ve been made a difference in the Bengals'  performance, helping the team to an 8-0 home record, including wins over the Colts, Patriots, Packers, Steelers and Ravens.

The Bengals would go on the road to play the Patriots in the second round if they beat the Chargers.

Tate says the fans were vital in their regular-season success and will be crucial if the team has a chance at winning the first Super Bowl in the organization's history.

“The fans have really been into it this year. I hope we keep it going,” he said. “We have pride in defending this home and look forward to playing this Sunday.“

But before they can win the Big Game, they have to win their first game.

Quarterback Andy Dalton is in his third postseason in three years as the team's signal-caller. He’s still looking for his playoff win – and he’d like to earn it in front of a packed Paul Brown Stadium.

“To play at home, to have the crowd noise and have all the fans, is big. We need to sell out this game. We need the fans here,” he said. “The game should be sold out. We’ve done a lot of good things here and to have the city behind us is big.”

For any fan interested in purchasing tickets go to bengals.com, call 513-621-8383 or visit Ticketmaster online or one of their retail outlets.

Copyright 2014 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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