Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bare seats, blackout greet Bucs in home opener
TAMPA - A new head coach. Marquee free agent acquisitions. Even fan-favorite Ronde Barber back for his 16th season. There was a lot of excitement as the cannons blared Sunday afternoon and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers opened another football season, but unless you were at Raymond James Stadium, you likely didn't see the game. In front of an announced crowd of 46,758, the Bucs won the first game of the season, 16-10, against the Carolina Panthers. Despite efforts by ownership to draw more fans to the stadium, and the National Football League relaxing its rules about TV blackouts of home games, people are already talking about a lack of fan support. Lackluster ticket sales have kept 14 of the Bucs' past 16 home games off local TV, including Sunday's win.Brett Klein, of Sarasota, and a buddy from Tampa went to the stadium at the last minute hoping to score cheap tickets, but ended up watching other teams play on TV at the Press Box Sports Emporium and Eatery on South Dale Mabry Highway. "We were looking to buy tickets on the cheap, but we decided what they were offering was not what we wanted to do," said Klein, wearing a white Buccaneers T-shirt. "So we decided to come here and still be in the spirit of the Bucs and football and beer and wings and camaraderie, as opposed to being at the game paying." Lower ticket prices and a better product on the field will draw more fans to the stadium, Klein said. "It's a cost/value scenario all the time," Klein said. The Buccaneers have tried. This year, the Bucs were the first franchise to adopt a new NFL policy allowing teams to avoid TV blackouts with 85 percent of tickets sold 72 hours before home games, as opposed to 100 percent. The team lowered the price of some tickets, offered free parking in certain lots and half-off on food and nonalcoholic drinks Sunday. It didn't work. Thursday, the Bucs announced the season opener would be blacked out because too many tickets remained unsold. Sunday's announced attendance of 46,758, which the Tampa Sports Authority said was the actual number at the game, accounted for 71 percent of capacity. Raymond James can seat 65,890. "You just hate the community's not supporting them," said Eddie Morton, of Sarasota, who bought his season tickets in 1976 — the Bucs' first season. "You hate that feeling. There's been years I've said 'I'm not going to buy tickets this year.' And because my two children and their two spouses and the grandkids love them, I said 'I can't give them up.'" Last season, the Bucs sold out just two of seven home games in Tampa — excluding the one in London, officially considered a home game. In 2010, all eight home games were blacked out. Wearing his red, Warrick Dunn No. 28 Buccaneers jersey, Mike Bashant, of Tampa, isn't satisfied with Bucs games being blacked out, but he isn't sure how much help it would be for folks to be able to see what was going on. Too many people are from somewhere else and root for other teams, he said. "I think it's not good for the fans that you don't show the games on TV, but it's not going to help you," Bashant said. "Does [showing the games] help the Rays? Not really."
[email protected] (813) 371-1860 Twitter: @EDanielsTrib