TAMPA - Although he won't guarantee the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will avoid blackouts this fall, chief operating officer Brian Ford said ticket sales for the upcoming season are brisk for a franchise blessed with an attractive home schedule. With individual game tickets set to go on sale Wednesday, Ford is encouraged by the response to the club's initiatives toward increasing group sales and retaining season-ticket holders. "Our (season ticket) renewal rate is equal to the glory years, back in the day, so it's not like we're digging out of a hole," Ford said Monday. "It helps we've got the best home schedule. Two prime-time games, one on a Monday night against Miami when Warren Sapp goes into our Ring of Honor, and a Thursday night game against a division rival (Carolina)." According to the Bucs, overall ticket sales have increased by more than 60 percent from this point in 2012.
Ford, who joined the team in 2006, said the franchise is at a different stage in its development. "It's not like we're a rebuilding team," he said, referencing fifth-year quarterback Josh Freeman and eight Pro Bowl players on the roster. "It's exciting, and that's what we're hearing from people. "We held a (first-round) draft party when we didn't have a draft pick that night and it was the biggest one we've had. Right after July 4, we did a beach bash on Clearwater Beach and it was overwhelming. The excitement is just tenfold and people can't wait for the season to start." The Bucs will once again partake in the NFL's softening blackout rules, permitting teams to set their threshold number needed for a television blackout to be lifted at 85 percent of overall capacity. In the past three seasons, 19 home games were blacked out locally. "We're one of the few teams that took full advantage of the league's lower manifest last year and we're doing it again," Ford said. "That shows our commitment to the community that we will do everything we can within our power." The Bucs have not raised ticket prices for the fifth consecutive year, Ford said, with 35 percent of seats at Raymond James Stadium featuring reduced prices in 2013. Fans also will notice an upgrade in customer service at home games with the team's switch to a new food vendor, Aramark. Tickets for the Sept. 15 home opener against the Saints have been on sale since June, and Ford said packing the stadium for that NFC South matchup remains a focal point for the organization. "Our No. 1 goal is tied to selling out that New Orleans game because that's where it starts," Ford said. "That's why we put it on sale early. We know we're in the entertainment business. People have a choice. It's not a necessity. So we want to make our game-day experience compelling." email@example.com (813) 259-7833 Twitter: @IKaufmanTBO