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Preseason finale blacked out, more blackouts on way?

The Dolphins preseason finale against Dallas at Sun Life Stadium will not be televised live because the game will not be sold out in time to lift the local TV blackout. The game will be televised on a taped delay basis.

The Dolphins will make the announcement later this afternoon so that fans wishing to watch the game live have time to get their tickets and make plans to attend. The game will be broadcast by WFOR (Channel 4 in South Florida) starting at 11:30 p.m. on Thursday on tape and then be rebroadcast on Friday on Channel 33 at 8 p.m. Friday.

That's not good news, but the more sobering news may be on the horizon.

The Dolphins also plan to make it clear to their fans that tickets sales for regular-season games are not going as well as the team would like and that could mean blackouts of several meaningful regular-season games are about to happen.

Several home games on the regular-season schedule -- starting with the Week 2 game against Houston -- are so far from being sold out that the club is warning fans the only way to see them might be to buy tickets.

Games against Buffalo, Denver, and perhaps even Dallas and Washington may not be sold out in time to lift the local TV blackout unless local fans purchase tickets at a rate not yet seen in 2011.

That means Miami's regular season streak of 102 consecutive blackout-lifting home sellouts, dating back to October 1998, is in jeopardy barring a run on tickets. The Dolphins' streak is currently at 101 consecutive home sellout but the club expects to sell out the Sept. 12 regular-season opener against New England, which would mark the 101st game of the streak.

The Dolphins overall streak of consecutive sellouts, counting playoffs, dates back to January 2002 when a playoff game against Baltimore failed to sell out in time to lift the blackout.

So what does this mean?

Some thoughts:

  • Several NFL teams, including Jacksonville, Oakland, San Diego and Tampa Bay are having similar problems selling tickets. That speaks to these being tough economic times and folks being careful with their disposable income.
  • The Dolphins are in a tough situation because the people of South Florida have options if they want to go to a sporting event. The Hurricanes, Panthers, and Heat all play here. Oh yeah, the Marlins are here also, although most locals avoid attending their games.
  • This being South Florida, there are other activities for people to enjoy in the winter.
  • The Dolphins are hurt by the fact they were 1-7 at home last season. Those losses stung. Folks didn't enjoy going home from games unhappy and are obviously guarding themselves from a similar experience this year.
  • Some fans are waiting to see how the club does against the Patriots in the season opener before making a ticket buying commitment. Win the opener and the club will give people a reason for coming back. Lose, and it could be hard to convince folks to purchase seats for the following week's game against Houston -- a team the Dolphins have never beaten.
  • The Dolphins don't have a recent history for playing entertaining football. Folks down here want victories and even if those don't come in droves, they definitely want points. The Dolphins have been point-challenged the last couple of seasons.
  • The NFL lockout obviously hurt the club's marketing.
  • The lack of big-name offseason additions hurt the club's marketing.

This news will be jarring to some South Floridians. Folks have gotten spoiled with the idea of having the Dolphins on TV every Sunday during the season. Even during the 1-15 year, all the games were sold out in time to televise them.

But those days are gone. The club is going to make that clear. No owner can absorb the cost of buying his own tickets, particularly when the number of unsold tickets hover around 13,000 as it currently does for the Houston game.

Local television stations also don't have that kind of money. Last year, for example, the total number of tickets purchased to secure sellouts was no more than 2,000 for the entire season.

So the message that is about to come from the Dolphins should be clear to local Dolphins fans: Ticket sales are lagging. And unless they improve dramatically, the Dolphins will not be on local TV every Sunday.

If fans want to make sure they see their team play, they will have to buy tickets.

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