Blackout On the Horizon?

The Vikings are sounding the Ron Burgundy alert horn and proclaiming "Vikings fans. Assemble!" For the first time in a decade, the team is facing the very real prospect of having a home game -- much less the season opener -- blacked out on local TV.

It has become something of a running joke among media members in the press box at Vikings games when the attendance numbers have been announced that proclaim "this is the (fill in the number) consecutive sellout at the Metrodome!"

At times it has seemed impossible. In the regular-season finale against the Rams last year, the team hit 95 in a row, despite about 10,000 fans being disguised as empty seats. In the preseason opener against the Rams this year, that number appeared to be closer to 15,000, yet the sellout hit No. 96.

Will it hit 97 on the regular-season opener vs. the Falcons? That is a question that may have to be put on hold for now.

The Vikings are going to launch a media blitz today on TV and radio announcing that the streak is in jeopardy. Ten years ago, sellouts became an issue, since four of the Vikings' eight home games that year were subject to a local TV blackout that forced many fans to go outside the 75-mile blackout radius. But, with the advent of NFL Ticket and satellite feeds able to be picked up by area sports bars, much has changed in the decade since. People don't have to feel as compelled to buy tickets in order to see the game, even though DirectTV packages and NFL Ticket subscribers within the blackout zone won't be able to see the game either.

As of Tuesday, there were just a little less than 6,000 tickets remaining for the regular-season opener. If those tickets aren't sold, the Vikings would have their first blackout since the final game of the 1997 season. What changed from 1997 to 1998? The Vikings drafted Randy Moss and new owner Red McCombs canvassed the state in a whirlwind tour that was reminiscent of a political candidate – selling the team to outstate fans and generating some excitement around the franchise.

Within two years, there was a long waiting list for season tickets. Clearly that list has been exhausted and fans that once were clamoring for Vikings football have turned back their season tickets. Perhaps a reaction to the trading of Moss and Daunte Culpepper – viewed as the faces of the franchise – or even more difficult economic times brought on by massive price hikes in gasoline and other consumer items, fans don't seem to have the same level of desire to buy season tickets.

The handwriting for this was on the wall some time ago. For the last couple of years, if fans wanted to buy single-game tickets for the hottest home games – the Packers and Bears – they were forced to buy a preseason ticket for each of the regular-season tickets purchased. Some cried foul, but most accepted it as part of business.

Blackouts or potential blackouts are nothing new to Vikings fans. Even when the team was dominant during the 1970s, blackouts were a way of life. The Pillsbury Company (General Mills) created a fund to buy up remaining tickets for several games, but that pot expired in the mid-1990s and blackouts were no longer saved by the "white knights" of the business world. Occasionally, if the number of unsold tickets was a minimal number, the network in charge of carrying the game would purchase the remaining tickets, but that too has become a revenue source that likely won't come to the rescue.

It has been 10 years since a Vikings game hasn't been telecast locally. Will the streak come to an end this year? The season opener for most sports usually ends in a sellout. The Twins do it. The Wild do it. Even the Timberwolves do it. If the fans can get energized around the team, enough of them will buy the remaining tickets to get the streak to 97. But that won't end the problem. It will just delay it.

* There remain lingering questions on the Vikings offensive line as to who will be the starters – even at this late date in the preseason. Anthony Herrera recently supplanted Artis Hicks on the practice field as the No. 1 right guard and Ryan Cook and Marcus Johnson are still competing for the right tackle spot. Unlike the defensive line, when a player becomes an O-line starter, barring injury there is little to no movement or rotation of the lineup. Brad Childress said Tuesday that both spots remain up for grabs and that regular-season starters for neither position have been determined yet.
* Bobby Wade is still nursing an ankle injury and is questionable to play against the Cowboys. Mike Doss remains sidelined with a calf injury. Tank Williams missed practice again Tuesday for an unknown reason and is also a question mark for Thursday.
* There continues to be chatter that the Vikings might be looking at trading Mewelde Moore, whose role in the running game clearly was altered with the drafting of Adrian Peterson.
* Tyler Thigpen told a South Carolina newspaper reporter that covered his college career that the Vikings are going to allocate him to the practice squad.
* Among the Falcons' final cuts in the first batch of releases was former Vikings WR Ben Nelson.
* Former Vikings wide receiver Chris Jones was released by the Seahawks Tuesday.

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