Tampa bar shows Bucs game, despite blackout
TAMPA - Sunday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers game was blacked out locally, but not at O'Brien's Irish Pub & Grill on North Dale Mabry Highway, where an Internet feed let customers watch the game live. "It wasn't the best picture in the world, but we got to watch the game," said Bernie O'Brien, the bar's owner. "They were happy the game was on." National Football League rules require home games to be sold out 72 hours before kickoff to be shown locally. And even though a good-sized crowd turned up at Raymond James Stadium Sunday to watch the Bucs lose their first game of the season to the Pittsburgh Steelers, not enough tickets sold in time to avoid a blackout. With O'Brien's being a Steelers bar, there was a large customer base to keep happy. And after a customer offered to hook up the game, O'Brien said, "OK." Fearing the setup might not work, O'Brien didn't advertise that he'd be showing the game; but word spread, and 200 to 300 people showed up to watch the game.O'Brien said he wasn't the only place in town showing the game, though he wouldn't say who else was. "There's a whole bunch of bars that had it on today," O'Brien said. O'Brien's was able to show the game the same way many fans watched it: By finding a website, such as ATDHE.net, that provides links to the game. Ever since blackouts became a reality for Bucs fans with the season opener, tips have been passing from fan to fan and on social networking sites such as Facebook. It's not clear what type of trouble bars such as O'Brien's could find themselves in, but the NFL doesn't seem pleased that places are finding ways around blackouts. "We protect our copyrighted game telecasts," NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said in an e-mail. "The local blackout applies to these commercial establishments. When we become aware of a violation, we alert our legal department, which will take action." O'Brien, a Bucs season-ticket holder for 20 years, said he doesn't believe he's doing anything illegal and isn't sure he'll hear from the NFL. If future Bucs games are blacked out, O'Brien said he'll continue to stream them live from the Internet. If the NFL or the government tells him to stop, though, he will. "If someone shows me we're breaking the law, we'll stop doing it," O'Brien said. "I wouldn't do it if I was going to be in trouble." Jesse Martinez and his wife, Keisha, are hardcore Steelers fans. Knowing O'Brien's to be friendly territory, they dropped by. When they learned the game was on, they were thrilled. "We were so excited that we were able to watch the game today," Keisha said. "It would have been nice to go to the game, but it's very hot out," Jesse said. "It was nice to watch, and the blackout was ridiculous."
Reporter Jose Patio Girona can be reached at (813) 259-7659. Reporter Michael Sasso can be reached at (813) 259-7865.