Tampa Bay Bucs: Then You Saw Them, Now You Don't. Another Blacked-Out Season?

Gene SiudutContributor IIIAugust 31, 2011

Will these ladies only be seen by those in the stands?
Will these ladies only be seen by those in the stands?J. Meric/Getty Images

Thursday, September 8th will mark the start to another NFL season with the 8:30 PM kickoff of the New Orleans Saints hosted by the reigning Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.  The game will be telecast by NBC and should be an excellent game and a great start to the season.

Sunday, September 11th, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will host the Detroit Lions. This should also be an excellent game. The Bucs are an up-and-coming franchise, going through a rebuild. The Pirates in Pewter are coming off a 10-win season, in which the team just barely missed the playoffs, but is optimistically looking at its future in the able hands of Josh Freeman, its young, yet extremely accurate, quarterback.

But these are not your father’s Detroit Lions.

The Lions, which haven’t qualified for the playoffs this century, are 3-0 in the preseason and look to finally get out of the basement of the NFC North. That being said, in 2008, the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason and didn’t win a regular-season game, becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and his rebuilt team are out to prove that these are no cowardly Lions. They will roll out to Raymond James Stadium with some attitude and young talent, but most of all, they will have something the Lions usually have no right having…confidence.

This will all be broadcast to you by the good people at FOX (not to be confused with the bad people at FOX News), and if you live anywhere other than the Tampa Bay area, you will be able to watch the game on television.

Yes, it’s once again time for Buccaneers blackouts.

The Buccaneers went 10-6 last year and showed that Bucs Ball is on the up and up. You may have missed this since the Buccaneers were the only team in the NFL to have every one of its home games blacked out, due to its failure to sell out any of its contests.

The NFL has a rule that prohibits local television from broadcasting any home game in which the game does not sell out by 72 hours prior to the kickoff of said game.

It doesn’t look like this season will start any different. From all indications, the Buccaneers home opener will once again fall short of capacity. If there’s one thing the NFL cannot abide, it is empty seats on television.

The NFL makes a strong point about its policy and has been backed up by the courts. The NFL contends that it is a business. The NFL, and more specifically, its commissioner, Roger Goodell, believe that if you start giving NFL games away for free, it will be impossible to charge later. This argument is backed up by the decline of newspapers, nationwide.

Josh Freeman looks to have another outstanding season.
Josh Freeman looks to have another outstanding season.J. Meric/Getty Images

The problem the Buccaneers face, as do most other sports teams, is that there is a limited amount of entertainment dollars the public is willing to spend. The Buccaneers play eight regular season home games and also two preseason home games.

These preseason games are priced at the same rate as a regular season game. If you’ve ever witnessed a preseason game, you are aware that the talent on the field is less than NFL regular season quality for a good portion of the game.

To add insult to injury, When a person purchases season tickets, he or she is required to purchase these preseason games at full price. It leaves a sour taste in one's mouth and is just one of the deciding factors on whether or not to purchase tickets.

I believe the NFL could work something out with the teams to lift the blackout policy and still make broadcasting games lucrative. It could give teams, which don’t sell out, a piece of DirecTV’s (which is the only broadcaster with the NFL Sunday Ticket package) proceeds from local customers or allow the general public the right to watch the game from home on a pay-per-view basis.  I’m sure DirecTV would have to be involved in that also, but just not having the team on TV will not fix the issue.

In days gone by when Sunday entertainment was limited to NFL games, this was a sound policy. But people today are so saturated with hand-held devices, gadgets and over a thousand channels on TV, that a person almost has to put extraordinary effort to pull away and try to relax.

Should they save for hot dogs or college?
Should they save for hot dogs or college?Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Today’s playthings, such as iPads and the like, aren’t cheap either. More and more, people are dedicating their entertainment dollars to electronics and may have trouble coming up with the $75.00 for the ticket, $25.00 to park, $6.00 for a hot dog, $8.00 for a beer and so on.

The standard method of expressing the expense of a game is to estimate the cost of attending a game for a family of four. I think the absurdity of about $150.00 per game for just one person should be eye-opening enough. That’s $1,500.00 including the preseason.

It used to be that not going to a game made a person a bad fan. Greedy owners, vendors, parking administrators, et. al. make a fortune during football season. The consequence may now be that they've all contributed to a dark period for the NFL.

I'm not insinuating that NFL teams are hurting, but they could be. The growing trend of decreasing attendance, at the same stadiums that should be filled, should serve as a red flag that something is wrong with the system.  

In a better economy, the Buccaneers and other teams will have a much easier time filling the seats. But as of now, blacking out games is pretty much a slap in the face of fans who have been loyal in years passed, but have fallen on harder economic times. Add to this, the Buccaneers play in a publicly subsidized stadium, and the slap in the face becomes an uppercut to the jaw.

So the Buccaneers are going to play the Lions in what could be the beginning of another wonderfully comfortable season at Raymond James, where the elbow room will be just fine. The wave may be a little hard to pull off, but that has to be a good thing, doesn’t it?