PewterReport.com can confirm that the Bucs intend to host the Chicago Bears in London should there be a 2011 season upon the completion of a new collective bargaining agreement. Find out the reasoning why in this article.
If the NFL owners and players agree to a new collective bargaining agreement that ends the lockout and puts the 2011 season in play, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Chicago Bears in London for the league's international game this year, according to league sources. Tampa Bay will surrender another home game to go to London just two years after hosting the New England Patriots on October 25, 2009 at Wembley Stadium.
The reasons for the Bucs' decision to host another game in London are plentiful. First, despite increased ticket sales from a surprising 10-6 record from a year ago and the rise of several young, exciting players, such as quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount, the local economy is still bad in the Tampa Bay area and the team fears economic conditions will usher in another year's worth of blacked out home games.
The team has drastically cut ticket prices and introduced monthly payment plans for season ticket holders, but still has an awful lot of ground to make up as the attendance for important, late-season contests against Atlanta, Detroit and Seattle didn't even average 50,000, which was well below the stadium's capacity of 65,857.
Even though the Bears game would have been one of the more attractive home games due to the number of Chicago transplants living in the Tampa Bay area and the number of Bears fans that would make the trip to see their team, Bucs sources point to the Pittsburgh game last year as an example of a game that was close to selling out, but ultimately was still thousands of tickets short of lifting the blackout regulations so that the game could be televised locally.
A small market team like Tampa Bay that is struggling with a difficult local economy needs to everything it can to promote its product, especially when it has so many marketable stars. By moving the Bears home game to London, Tampa Bay fans will get to see at least nine regular games on television in 2011 (all eight away games are always televised locally), as there are no home games that are sure to be sellouts – although home contests against national teams like Dallas and Indianapolis have the best chance. More games on local TV means more exposure for the team, and hopefully more excitement from the fanbase. More excitement typically translates into an increase in ticket sales, which is the franchise's ultimate goal.
Another reason why the Bucs decided to host the Bears in London is that they desperately want to elevate their brand on a local and a national level. The Buccaneers franchise became extremely frustrated last year when the league had multiple opportunities to flex some of their December games to primetime and got snubbed. Although some home games were moved from 1:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. starts, Tampa Bay feels like at least one of the Falcons, Lions or Seahawks home games should have been flexed to Sunday Night Football on NBC. With potential playoff implications, even Tampa Bay's season-ending contest at New Orleans was not flexed to primetime.
Here's a key point to consider. At no time last year did the Bucs ever have a losing record. Tampa Bay started the year 1-0 after beating Cleveland, and had a winning record every week for the rest of the year. Yet the league did little to shine the spotlight on the resurging Buccaneers.
The international game in London is one of the highest-profile games on the league's schedule this year, and the Bucs are very interested in raising their profile and doing whatever they can to crack the national spotlight. That's why the Bucs have been extremely open to the idea of being featured on HBO's Hard Knocks mini-series during this year's training camp. The team wants the nation to start paying attention to the young, exciting team that has been assembled in one of the NFL's smaller markets and will do whatever it can to accomplish that goal.
Bucs sources tell PewterReport.com that the team shares the frustrations of its fans that it does not get enough national coverage from outlets like ESPN, Sports Illustrated and others despite being one of 2010's feel-good stories with a surprising 10-6 record and the emergence of an NFL star in Freeman and the Bucs' high-powered offense. In just his second NFL season, Freeman completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions and compiled a QB rating of 95.9, yet is not regularly talked about or promoted as one of the league's rising star quarterbacks.
The Bucs were pleased that their preseason opener at Kansas City on August 12 will be on a nationally televised Fox broadcast, but is bracing for only one or two primetime games in 2011 during the regular season despite a double-digit winning record last year.
And the team fears those primetime games will be on the road due to the fact that all of Tampa Bay's home games were blacked out in 2010. The Bucs hope that they receive at least one primetime home game in 2011 as that would likely increase the chances of a sellout due to the hype and electric atomosphere that comes with night games.
The final reason Tampa Bay feels comfortable surrendering a home game again to go across the Atlantic and play is because the team had a great experience in London two years ago, despite losing to the Patriots, 35-7. The London game was actually the first NFL regular season game in which Freeman saw live action, and the Bucs organization thought that the league did an exemplary job of putting on the game.
With interest in Hard Knocks and playing the Bears game in London, the young Buccaneers are looking to take advantage of any opportunity to elevate and promote their brand. The more popular the Bucs become in Tampa and across the nation and the world, the more interest there is in tickets and increasing the season ticket holder fan base.
Producing a winning team that sells out Raymond James Stadium is the stated goal for the franchise. When that happens every Bucs fan benefits because blackouts are lifted and all 16 games are on local television once again just as they were in the team's glory days.
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