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BUCS FANS FACING BLACKOUTS?
The current state of the economy is having a negative impact on a large number America's businesses, and the National Football League isn't immune to the issues a good portion of the country is dealing with.

That might sound difficult to believe since the NFL offseason featured record-setting, multi-million dollar contracts for defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and linebacker Terrell Suggs in Washington and Baltimore, respectively.

But the harsh reality of today's economic climate likely will start to sink in for football fans as soon as next month, which is when football games are scheduled to air on television.

While teams with sold out stadiums, including the Green Bay Packers, have nothing to fear, some of the other NFL teams and their fans are concerned about the possibility of blackouts on local television, and rightfully so.

The Buccaneers, who once had a 66,000-seat stadium full of season ticket holders and a season ticket waiting list of over 100,000, have seen a significant number of fans drop their season tickets over the past two years, and for different reasons.

Some fans can no longer afford the tickets due to becoming unemployed, while others felt there wasn't enough return on the investment from the Bucs, who haven't won a playoff game since hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in January of 2003.

Rather than renew their season tickets, some fans opted to invest in big screen televisions, which allow fans to watch NFL games from the comfort of their own homes.

While it might sound good in theory, that strategy could backfire on fans if the Buccaneers cannot sell out their home games. If such a scenario unfolds, Bucs preseason and home games will be subject to blackouts, which means the entire Tampa Bay area could be prohibited from watching the Bucs at Raymond James Stadium, even if local residents subscribe to NFL Sunday Ticket or frequent a local sports bar.

The Buccaneers haven't disclosed the number of tickets that remain unsold for their 2009 preseason and regular season home games, but it appears to be a significant number based on the Bucs fans Pewter Report has talked to and the full court press the team has put on advertising and marketing different ticket packages.

The good news for Bucs fans is the NFL blackout rules do not apply to the club section or luxury suites at stadiums, so those two areas do not have to sell out in order for blackouts to be lifted.

There is a lot of time between now and Tampa Bay's first preseason game at home on Aug. 27, and its first regular season home contest vs. Dallas on Sept. 13, so there's still a chance the Bucs will sell out some or even all of their games at Raymond James Stadium.

But the Bucs fans waiting to buy tickets to home games because they believe the NFL is going to step in and waive or adjust the blackout rules this year could find themselves out of luck when they attempt to turn on Tampa Bay home games on NBC, FOX or CBS this season.

NFL senior vice president of public relations Greg Aiello told PewterReport.com that the league has no plans to lift or change the blackout rules this year.

"The blackout policy has been an important element in supporting the ability of teams to sell tickets, fill our stadiums, and make our games attractive as television programming with enthusiastic capacity crowds," Aiello told Pewter Report via e-mail. "As a result, we are the only league that televises all of its regular season and playoff games on free television, subject to the home blackout rule. We and our clubs are sensitive to today's economic climate. Three-quarters of our teams froze ticket prices this year and in general they are being very creative in packaging tickets to help fans afford them."

The Buccaneers declined to comment on the NFL blackout rules and how they might impact Tampa Bay home games this year.

But Aiello is correct in saying teams have been creative with how they've used and marketed tickets.

The Glazers, for example, opted not to raise season ticket prices this year, which is what many other teams in the league decided to do in 2009. The Bucs also appear to be sensitive to the financial challenges some families might be facing, offering fans half-season ticket packages and no longer requiring seat deposits in some situations.

The Buccaneers, who were one of the losingest franchises in sports history when the Glazers purchased the team in 1995, have not had a home game blacked out locally since the 1997 regular season.

Ownership helped keep that streak intact last year by purchasing thousands of unsold tickets and donating them to underprivileged youth groups and other entities before the NFL-mandated 72-hour pre-game deadline.

If a relatively small number of unsold tickets remain for Bucs regular season home games this year it's reasonable to believe the Glazers could display similar generosity in an effort to bring Bucs games into the homes of the team's fans.

It's also important to note that the Bucs fans wanting to watch games at Ray-Jay from their homes could be aided by an unlikely group – opposing fans.

Tampa Bay's 2009 regular season schedule features Bucs home games vs. opponents that have dedicated fans who have traditionally traveled well.

That includes Dallas, the New York Jets, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers. Of course, the Bucs and their fans don't have to worry about the team's home game vs. the New England Patriots since it will be played in London in October.

While NFC South division rivals aren't known for sending thousands of fans to away city stadiums, these cities are within driving distance of Tampa, so it's possible Falcon, Panther and Saint fans could easily find their way into Raymond James Stadium this year.

Back in the Bucco Bruce days, Bucs fans were used to seeing thousands of opposing fans from Chicago and Green Bay in the Big Sombrero. That was when Tampa Bay was one of the worst teams in the NFL.

But a new generation of Bucs fans isn't used to seeing herds of the enemy's fans in Ray-Jay, which opened in 1998. This generation of Bucs fans is used to being part of what is known as the home field advantage, but that could soon change unless.

Tampa Bay already saw what it was like to have opposing teams' fans fill out Ray-Jay. That came in January of 2008, which is when Tampa Bay hosted the N.Y. Giants in the first round of the playoffs.

Despite going 9-7 and winning the NFC South division that season, the Buccaneers had difficulty selling out their playoff contest. The post-season game eventually sold out, but shortly after the Giants defeated the Bucs en route to going on to win the Super Bowl, at least 10,000 fans remained in the stands, and this group was made up of local and visiting Giants fans that bought up the playoff tickets some Bucs fans weren't able and/or willing to purchase.

If Tampa Bay home games do sell out in 2009, the Bucs fans watching from home could have opposing teams' fans to thank for it. If some Bucs home games are blacked out locally this year, fans will have the current state of the economy to blame for it.

DOMINIK ATTEMPTING TO KEEP ALLEN'S STREAK ALIVE
Former Bucs general manager Bruce Allen never had a player holdout during his tenure with the Oakland Raiders, but that streak ended in his first year in Tampa Bay.

That's when wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who had two years remaining on his contract at the time, demanded a new deal. He accused former Bucs head coach Jon Gruden of promising him that new deal, but it never came to fruition as McCardell's holdout ended with Allen trading him to San Diego in October of 2004.

While that particular streak ended, Allen managed to keep one intact from his days in Oakland to his five-year tenure in Tampa Bay. Allen never had a rookie holdout, which is an impressive feat considering how often it happens in the NFL in terms of first-round draft picks.

Allen successfully signed former first-round picks Michael Clayton (2004), Cadillac Williams (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Gaines Adams (2007) and Aqib Talib (2008) before the Bucs took the field for their first training camp practices in those respective years.

Making this feat even more impressive was the fact that three of those first-round picks, Clayton, Williams and Adams, were selected in the top 15 overall. Those contracts are typically more difficult to negotiate than late first-round picks' deals.

Now Allen's successor, Mark Dominik, is attempting to follow in Allen's footsteps by getting the team's 2009 first-round pick, quarterback Josh Freeman, under contract before Tampa Bay takes the field for its first training camp practice on Aug. 1.

Dominik credits Allen for much of what he learned as a G.M.-in-training. Dominik learned under the likes of Rich McKay, Jerry Angelo and Tim Ruskell, but Allen is the one that first allowed Dominik to negotiate contracts with agents, which helped make him qualified for the job he now holds in the Bucs front office.

However, it's interesting to note that while he has negotiated plenty of contracts, including all but one member of Tampa Bay's 2009 draft class, Dominik has never done a deal for a first-round pick.

The people we've talked to regarding Freeman and the Bucs' attempt to get him signed before training camp begins don't seem to concerned that Freeman will become a holdout, and aiding Dominik is the fact that the two quarterbacks taken ahead of Freeman in the draft – Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez – have already inked their rookie deals.

DID 2010 FREE AGENT QB CLASS INFLUENCE FREEMAN PICK?
Not all Bucs fans were onboard with Tampa Bay's decision to invest its 2009 first-round pick in quarterback Josh Freeman. Time will tell if Freeman will prove worthy of that pick, but one thing we can tell you is Bucs head coach Raheem Morris and general manager Mark Dominik did their homework before settling on the former Kansas State signal caller in April.

The Bucs took everything into consideration, not just Freeman's college tape and character. Their evaluation of every position on the team looks at draft prospects and free agents in the years to come.

Dominik and former Bucs senior assistant Kevin Demoff worked closely together and prided themselves on forecasting. Demoff accepted a promotion with the St. Louis Rams earlier this offseason, but Dominik and his staff still are applying the look-ahead philosophy in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay knows there are some highly touted college quarterbacks in 2010, but there is no way to know if those players would be available when the Bucs have their first pick, or if any of those players would warrant that selection after their senior seasons.

When the Bucs took a look at the quarterbacks scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in 2010 they didn't come away impressed, which might have influenced their decision to re-sign Luke McCown, ink Byron Leftwich to a deal and draft Freeman this offseason, not to mention the team's attempt to trade for Jay Cutler, who eventually wound up in Chicago.

At first glance, the 2010 free agent class of quarterbacks is headlined by two of the game's best in San Diego's Phillip Rivers and New York Giants QB Eli Manning. However, neither player is expected to hit the open market. They likely will be signed to long-term contracts by their respective teams in the coming months.

Eagles QB Donovan McNabb was rumored to be on his way out of Philly last year, but but the five-time Pro Bowler led his team to their fifth NFC Championship Game in eight years in January, which earned him a restructured two-year contract that gave McNabb a raise. That means he's not going anywhere, either.

So what's left after Rivers and Manning in terms of the quarterbacks scheduled to become UFAs next year? Take a look for yourself, and you'll likely see why the Bucs attempted to address their need for a franchise quarterback during the 2009 offseason as opposed to waiting until 2010 to do it.

2010 UFA Quarterbacks
Charlie Batch (Pittsburgh)
Kyle Boller (St. Louis)
Todd Bouman (Jacksonville)
Mark Brunell (New Orleans)
David Carr (New York Giants)
Daunte Culpepper (Detroit)
Jeff Garcia (Oakland)
Rex Grossman (Houston)
Joey Harrington (New Orleans)
Eli Manning (New York Giants)
Josh McCown (Carolina)
Chad Pennington (Miami)
Patrick Ramsey (Tennessee)
Chris Redman (Atlanta)
Phillip Rivers (San Diego)
Brian St. Pierre (Arizona)

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