a business dream of a local baked-goods distributor -- is back, buoyed by modest successes lifting the television blackout for the Bills' recent home games against Dallas and Miami.
Jim Richert's idea is simple. Get consumers to pool their money and buy the remaining tickets 72 hours before kickoff in time to lift the TV blackout. Then sell those tickets at half price, with part of the proceeds going to a local charity.
Then everyone wins: Shut-ins and people who can't afford a ticket watch the game on TV. A few hundred fans lured by half-price tickets can take their families to the game. Taverns and pizza shops thrive on the televised games. And some local charities benefit directly.
But two years ago, Richert sank some $15,000 into the project, with few results. Not many people were willing to plunk down the $12.95 per-game membership fee, especially after the U.S. attorney's office warned people to beware of such a plan. Authorities later decided that the plan was above-board.
Now Sell-Out Inc. is back, with a revised strategy -- to attract memberships from the taverns, pizzerias, convenience stores and other businesses that benefit financially from a televised game.
Richert, the 44-year-old West Amherst man who delivers baked goods from 2 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, decided to build his credibility by helping buy the remaining tickets
for games that almost sold out in time.
Here's what happened for the Sept. 22 game against Dallas:
At 4 p.m. Thursday, 72 hours before kickoff, some 280 tickets remained. Richert collaborated with the two Fox Network affiliates in Western New York, Channel 29 in Buffalo and Channel 31 in Rochester, to buy those tickets.
He bought 100 himself, for about $3,400, then resold them at half price to the public and gave $1 per ticket to Students Against Drunk Driving. So it cost Richert $1,800.
"Basically, I was a one-third participant in making sure that the blackout was lifted," Richert said. But he acknowledged that the local television affiliates would have bought all 280 tickets, if necessary.
So why did he shell out that money?
"Hopefully, now I've achieved the credibility I needed to bring on corporate members -- the sports bars, the pizzerias, the small taverns and convenience stores -- anyone who benefits from the game being on television," he said.
He would charge them $1,050 per season for a membership; that's $100 per game (eight regular-season games and two potential playoff games), plus a $50 service charge. Members would get their $100 back if a game were sold out in advance or if it fell far short of a sellout. (Memberships are available by calling 1-800-216-TEAM).
Richert would charge members only what it costs to buy the remaining tickets. His profit then would come from selling those tickets at half price.
Bills fans may be spoiled by the first four games this year all being shown on local television. In each of the past two years, at least five of the eight regular-season games have been blacked out.
But why wouldn't the local affiliate of the network carrying the game buy out the remaining seats each week, especially since it can sell close to $100,000 worth of ads?
For one thing, they're leery of the ticket-buying public depending on them to finish off the sellout. And if 2,000 or 3,000 tickets remained at the 72-hour deadline, it wouldn't make any sense for the television affiliates to spend all their extra ad revenue on tickets.
Richert believes his plan benefits from the National Football League's recent crackdown on bars illegally showing blacked-out games. Settlements have ranged from $2,600 to $9,570.
In contrast, his plan is legal, and participating businesses would be listed as sponsors in ads Richert would take out if he bought out the remaining tickets.