On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers acknowledged what has been rumored for months, that the team's preseason games will be blacked out. The Bucs did not say that regular season games will be blacked out, but did not rule it out. The Bucs did acknowledge that the practice of buying up unsold tickets has stopped, however.
Last March at the NFL owners meeting in Orlando, Fla., Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer warned that Tampa Bay's home games in 2010 would be blacked out if the games were not sold out. The Glazers will be making good on that promise as early as Saturday as Tampa Bay's preseason home opener against Kansas City will be blacked out locally because the game is not sold out.
In fact, neither preseason home contest is close to being sold out. The NFL requires all tickets to be sold at least 72 hours prior to kickoff for blackouts to be avoided and there is little chance of that happening due to slow ticket sales.
Newschannel 8 (NBC) WFLA, which has the TV rights to the Bucs preseason games, will be broadcasting the Bucs vs. Chiefs game on a tape-delay basis on Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. and will likely be doing the same thing the following week when Tampa Bay hosts Jacksonville in the third preseason game.
Last year, it was reported that the Bucs engaged in purchasing unsold tickets to ensure sell outs and the televising of all 16 games to the Tampa Bay and Central Florida television market. Bucs director of communications Jonathan Grella said that the Glazers will no longer be engaging in that practice.
In other words, if the games are to appear locally on television, the onus will be on the fans to buy up the unsold tickets to ensure a sell out.
The Bucs have certainly been sympathetic to the recession that is affecting the local economy and have held several free events for fans to get close to the team, including a free draft party at Raymond James Stadium, free training camp practices and a free night practice at the stadium nearly two weeks ago.
"While on-field success surely affects ticket sales, the economic downturn has proven to have a dramatic influence over ticket sales in this and other sports," Grella said. "Tampa is suffering from the League's largest unemployment increase (9.3 percent) in the past five years and the second-worst overall unemployment rate (13.3 percent). So when that's the case, you can't take anything for granted. We've redoubled our efforts to stay connected with our fans through free events and more affordable seating options ($35 per game season tickets, $25 youth tickets, long-term payment plans and no more club seat deposits or contracts).
"Several other NFL teams are being impacted by the negative economic climate. Five teams experienced blackouts last season and many more are facing that prospect this season. There were three official blackouts last weekend, two of which were in the home markets of playoffs teams. It's critical to bear in mind that the NFL has maintained a strict blackout policy for decades, its policy is unique amongst professional sports leagues, and it is designed to encourage attendance."
If the Bucs don't sell out the regular season games, those will be blacked out, too. Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer acknowledged the fact that the team has been feeling the same economic hardship at the box office and with a lack of season ticket renewals that Tampa Bay fans have been dealing with during a speech at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce event this summer. Those sentiments were echoed by the official Bucs spokesperson.
"We understand that families are struggling these days, so we have tried to create affordable ticketing options," Grella said. "Whether they can make it out to the games or not, we know they are still Bucs fans and we love them for it."
Tampa Bay has had 12 seasons of consecutive sellouts at Raymond James Stadium since the stadium opened in 1998. The last Tampa Bay game that was blacked out occurred in October of 1997.
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