PewterReport.com is reporting that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 2011 season opener against Detroit will be blacked out. The number of tickets sold for the Bucs vs. Lions game on Sunday, September 11 is close to 50,000 and it is nearly impossible to expect that the team will sell 15,000 more seats by Thursday to meet the NFL-mandated 72 hours prior to kickoff time frame to lift blackouts in the local television market of home teams.
In fact, none of the 2011 home games have been announced by the team as sold out, but PewterReport.com has learned that the best chances of any home sellouts would occur for the Indianapolis Colts game on ESPN’s Monday Night Football on October 3 and the December 17 game against Dallas on NFL Network’s Saturday Night Football. Ticket sales for those games are outpacing the sales for the season opener, and there is a chance those contests may sell out and have the local TV blackout lifted if the team has a hot start because those contests are later in the season.
Also, with the Colts and Cowboys being more prominent and popular teams nationally, there is a greater likelihood that there would be a higher than average number of Indianapolis and Dallas fans at Raymond James Stadium than for some of the other Bucs’ opponents, such as Detroit.
Tampa Bay’s home game against New Orleans on October 16 stands the third-best chance of selling out as ticket sales for that game have also outpaced those for the season opener.
The Bucs have been having attendance troubles since the 2008 and ‘09 seasons when the team had to step in and buy back unsold tickets to the games that were not sold out in those respective seasons. Tampa Bay faded down the stretch and just missed the playoffs in ’08, which dampened fan enthusiasm right as the country's economy entered a recession and unemployment rose. Former head coach Jon Gruden was fired as a result and replaced with Raheem Morris on January 16, 2009.
In ’09, during Morris’ first season as head coach, the team suffered through a 3-13 season, which did not help generate fan interest and ticket sales. All 10 of Tampa Bay’s home games, including two preseason contests, last season were blacked out from local TV as the season ticket base had eroded to the point where the Bucs were no longer willing to pick up the tab for the tens of thousands of empty seats.
Tampa Bay was the only team in the NFL in 2010 that had every home game blacked out despite never having a losing record during the season and finishing the campaign with a surprising 10-6 record. While season ticket sales have reportedly been helped by the success of the 10-6 mark from a year ago, along with the emergence of several young, exciting star players, such as quarterback Josh Freeman, wide receiver Mike Williams, running back LeGarrette Blount and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs’ first two preseason games of the 2011 season were blacked out and there is a chance that Tampa Bay fans may have to endure another season where every game is blacked out from local television. The 132-day NFL lockout during the offseason certainly didn't help ticket sales, either.
The team has reduced ticket prices this year in an effort to generate more sales, and has also given stadium concession discounts and affordable payment plan options to Tampa Bay fans to try to increase its season ticket holder base.
Bucs fans in the Tampa Bay area are guaranteed to see at least one home game on television this year as the team’s home encounter with the Chicago Bears was selected by the NFL to be the league’s International Series game in London. As a result, the Bucs will have just seven regular season games at Raymond James Stadium in 2011. All road games are televised locally.