As of late Wednesday afternoon, there were around 7,500 tickets remaining for Sunday's wild-card game between the Packers and San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.
The prospect of the Green Bay Packers not selling out a home playoff game seems unthinkable.
Yet as of late Wednesday afternoon, there were around 7,500 tickets remaining for Sunday's wild-card game between the Packers and San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field.
NFL rules stipulate that if the game isn't sold out by 3:40 p.m. Thursday, or 72 hours prior to kickoff, there will be a television blackout in local markets, including Green Bay/Fox Cities, Milwaukee and Wausau. The Packers could ask for a deadline extension, and it's believed the league would grant that request.
Packers director of public affairs Aaron Popkey said the organization remains "optimistic" the game will sell out and a TV blackout can be averted. It's possible a corporate sponsor could step forward and buy the remaining tickets.
Even if that occurs, it's baffling the Packers would have to go down to the wire to sell out the most important game of the season.
How could a franchise so rich in playoff tradition, with such a hardy fan base, find itself in a predicament usually reserved for NFL teams far less popular and successful?
Not counting games involving replacement players in 1987, the last time a Packers home game didn't sell out was in January 1983 when they hosted the St. Louis Cardinals in a first-round playoff game and many disgruntled fans were turned off by a strike-shortened season.
But what excuse is there this year? The Packers won three of their last four games in dramatic fashion to capture a third straight division championship and fifth consecutive playoff berth. Plus, the return of quarterback Aaron Rodgers from a broken collarbone offers hope the Packers can do some damage in the postseason.
"I'm not concerned about it," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy at his Wednesday press conference about the lack of a sellout. "Lambeau Field, I fully expect and have great confidence that it will be an incredible environment come Sunday. We have great fans. These are the games our fans live for, so I really have no concern about it at all. I have confidence that whatever needs to be done will be done."
McCarthy has more important things to worry about and needs to give his full attention to preparing for the 49ers. But the lack of a sellout has to make some in the Packers organization concerned.
Is it possible that even the avid Packers fan base has reached a saturation point when it comes to following its favorite team?
In the past, the Packers could charge just about any price, whether for tickets, concessions or green and gold merchandise, and their loyal followers wouldn't think twice about opening their wallets.
Packers devotees happily forked over millions of dollars for the right to be called team shareholders, even if in real terms they received only a valueless piece of paper.
That's why the Packers' struggle this week to sell out a playoff game comes as a shock and likely reverberates all the way to NFL headquarters.
There's a combination of factors that have contributed to the Packers' difficulty in selling tickets this week:
■ The forecast for Sunday's game calls for a high in single digits and a below-zero wind chill. It's understandable that instead of shelling out between $102 and $125 for a ticket to the deep freeze, a fan would rather watch the game from the comfort of a warm living room sofa on a high-definition, big-screen TV.
■ The Packers sent out playoff notices to season ticket holders during the worst part of their season when Rodgers' return was uncertain and they were getting crushed by the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. It's likely many threw away their order forms thinking the Packers had no hope of earning a playoff berth.
■ The Packers overestimated the loyalty of their fan base by imposing a new no-refund playoff ticket policy in which unused money would be applied to next season's tickets. The team also initially limited ticket sales this week to four per customer but quickly removed that restriction when it realized how slow tickets were selling.
■ The Packers added 7,000 seats to Lambeau Field this season, increasing the capacity to 80,750 and making it more difficult to sell out a game that isn't part of the season-ticket package. It raises concerns that the Packers might have trouble filling their stadium, the third-largest in the NFL, if the team ever goes into an extended losing drought like it did in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Packers aren't the only playoff team having trouble unloading tickets. The Cincinnati Bengals and Indianapolis Colts also hadn't sold out at midweek for first-round games.
The NFL no doubt is watching with interest. If the wildly popular Packers have trouble selling out a playoff game, that could be a sign of trouble for a league in danger of overexposing and overpricing its product.