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Violating Blackouts Costs Bar Owners Greenbacks

December 19, 1995

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) _ Larry Braddell admitted showing a blacked out Buffalo Bills game at the Pepper Mill Restaurant to 20 people, half of whom were relatives.

Now, like 18 other tavern owners in the Buffalo area, Braddell is paying heavily to settle a lawsuit from the NFL.

``It hurt,″ said Braddell, who wouldn’t say exactly how much cash he handed over to the league. ``They don’t give you a very good payment schedule.″

Braddell won’t get much sympathy from the league, which says it’s being ripped off by pirated telecasts. NFL and Bills officials say they have succeeded in efforts make it tougher to see blacked out games without buying a ticket to Rich Stadium.

``We just want the establishments, the clubs, the bars _ everybody _ to adhere to the law,″ Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson said Tuesday.

When an NFL game does not sell out, the league bans it from being broadcast within a 75-mile radius of the home team’s stadium. To show a blacked out game in a public place is a violation of federal communications and copyright laws.

Most of the bars that have been sued are charged with breaking the blackout rule, although some have been accused of violating the terms of their NFL Sunday Ticket package that allows them to receive games via satellite.

Pro-Bills bars have been the focal point of the NFL’s anti-piracy campaign this season.

Sixty-two taverns and restaurants in the Buffalo, Rochester and southern Ontario areas have been sued for $200,000 each and a dozen more soon will be. Litigation against 18 others in the Tampa, Fla., area is expected before the end of the week, NFL attorney Neil Roman said.

Nineteen taverns have settled with the league and promised not to show any more blacked out games. Some bars have paid the NFL as little as a couple of thousand dollars but others have forked over more than $9,000, Roman said.

The league will lose more money on legal fees than it will make in settlements, but the NFL is going ahead with the lawsuits because it wants fans at the stadium rather than turning football into a studio sport, Roman said.

``It has a definite impact on attendance,″ Wilson said. ``Why wouldn’t it? When people can go to establishments and watch these games in comfort and have a few beers? Come on.″

Braddell and other tavern owners disagree vehemently and claim the NFL is just picking on small business.

``So if we make an extra $300 or $400 on one of those games, what’s the big deal?″ said Lewis Grandinetti, the owner of Legends, a neighborhood bar in the suburban community of Kenmore. ``Who are we hurting? It has nothing to do with ticket sales. That’s a lot of baloney.″

Grandinetti blamed tickets priced between $26 and $41 for the Bills selling out only two games, against Carolina and Miami, this season.

Wilson said Bills ticket prices are moderate compared with the rest of the league. He noted that at the New England game Nov. 26, Buffalo sold 4,000 walk-ups for the blacked out game, more than any game-day sales in recent memory. The Buffalo owner attributed the sales to the crackdown.

About 34,000 seats are left at 79,000-seat Rich Stadium for this Sunday’s game against Houston, which Wilson said is partly because it’s being played on Christmas Eve.

At this point, its virtually certain the Houston game won’t be sold out, so Buffalo residents who aren’t at the stadium will have to listen to it on the radio. That’s just the way the NFL wants it.

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