If you were to put together a time capsule of the top/newsworthy games over the last 20 years for the Bills, at least 5 of them were blackouts. Talking the Greatest Comeback Game, Jim Kelly's last game (Jags playoff loss), Flutie's roll out TD against Jags, Andre Reed breaking Art Monk's catch record, and the Colts/Bills comeback game from 1997. Keep in mind that these all came when the Bills had 80,000 seats to fill instead of 72,000.
Over the years, the blackout rule has pretty much canceled out home games at Ralph Wilson Stadium during December. The Titans, Dolphins and Broncos games weren't seen last year. During the 2010 season, three of the Bills home games (Detroit, Jacksonville and Cleveland) were blacked out. Add it up, and 6 of the last 14 home games in Buffalo weren't seen on TV. It should also be noted that if the Bills adapted the 85% rule during those games, only one of the six would have been televised.
You can chalk up those games to bad weather or team performance, but the bottom line is that the Bills have had an attendance problem. The Bills went from being ranked 10th in attendance in 2009 to 24th last season. I do believe a majority of it has to do with the on the field product. The Bills sold out December games during the early 90s when they were winning and you can only rely on Russ Brandon's crafty marketing (Come to Bills games and get hammered for half the price of Pats tickets) for so long. If the Bills didn't have the road trip from hell last season (Losing 3 straight and falling to 5-6), I think a few of those December games are sold out.
So will the Bills adopt this policy? Probably not.
First off, the Bills probably don't feel guilty if the county is picking up the tab when it comes to stadium improvements. The Buffalo News or other outlets can claim that the Bills should adapt this in order to extend an olive branch to the county, but they don't care. The Bills have whored out Toronto games, may/or may not have a contingency plan if RWJ dies to save the franchise, and for years they didn't come close to spending cash to the cap. In other words, they have a history of not doing what the fans want.
People are acting like fans would be so pissed off the Bills didn't adapt this rule. Are you kidding? Fans are more excited about the team this year than over the last decade. This is the perfect time to say "Sorry, but we want 72,000 peeps at the stadium if you wanna see the game on TV." They have seen much worse done to them than not being able to see the games at 85% capacity. To quote Jay-Z, it will be dirt off our shoulders. Keep in mind that during the mid-90s, when the Bills had some issues in selling out games (This was during the 80,000 era, when the team was getting 75,000 or so to show up.), Ralph Wilson put an ad in TBN saying that you better come out and support this team or else (Paraphrasing).
The way I've viewed it for years, the Bills feel they do way more in their power for the region than the other way around. Ralph Wilson has always been quoted as saying that "He could have made so much more money if he took the team to Miami or any other city." In some instances, I agree. I know unemployed people in Buffalo who have had season tickets. 400-500 bucks a pop for season tickets isn't exactly a huge investment this day and age in the NFL.
Plus, why should the Bills care if the region is poor? It is not Ralph Wilson's fault that NYS is being ruined by a bunch of stupid politicians while businesses and people are getting the hell out of here while they still can. Sometimes I feel citizens in WNY rely on our sports teams to save the region when it comes expenses and building businesses, and that's not their goal. It is to win and make money. Not build Canalside.
Ralph is not obligated to help the region. The Bills would be stupid to adopt this rule because game attendance is how they make a majority of their money from the stadium. If the game is on TV, it will keep fans from gobbling up those remaining tickets. Plus, people now more than ever would rather watch the game at home, especially with HD TVs being as big as walls and to avoid extra costs at a game. If anything, the Bills should find other ways to improve the stadium experience beyond the keg stands in the parking lot.
Of course, I think it will all be a moot point if the Bills are competing come December.