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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs seek loot, fans in games in England

TAMPA - Bob McNair, owner of the National Football League's Houston Texans, was recently asked if he had any intention of bringing his franchise overseas to play a regular-season game in London. "We would have interest in that," McNair said. "We would have interest as the visiting team. Someone else would have to give up a home game. Our fans want to see us at home and they've been very loyal and supportive. I'd be reluctant to give up a home game." The Tampa Bay Buccaneers apparently don't share McNair's concerns. For the second time in three years, the Glazer family has agreed to shift one of Tampa Bay's home games to Wembley Stadium in London as part of the league's annual international series.
The Bucs departed Tampa on Monday in an effort to get acclimated to the time change heading into Sunday's matchup against the Chicago Bears. In 2009, Tampa Bay was the home team in London during a 35-7 loss to the New England Patriots. "When the opportunity came up that we could go back to Wembley, we quickly grabbed it and said 'yes,' " Bucs general manager Mark Dominik told Sky Sports, Britain's premier sports channel. At last week's owners meetings in Houston, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league wants to expand its commitment toward playing regular-season games in the United Kingdom. Goodell said two games may be played annually in England as early as next season and the NFL estimates a current fan base of 11 million in the United Kingdom, where the Super Bowl audience has soared 74 percent since 2006. "We've been very pleased at the reception to the game and the way our business has grown over there," Goodell said. "I think now you want to see if it can be sustained for multiple games." All four previous NFL games at Wembley sold out, some within 72 hours, but seats for Sunday's Bucs-Bears matchup remained available across several price categories as of Tuesday afternoon. League officials blamed the tepid ticket sales on a lingering NFL blackout this summer that hampered marketing efforts. The Buccaneers could play a significant role in the NFL's new international strategy outlined last week. "When the initial resolution was approved in 2006, the thinking at the time was that we would have two new teams every year," said NFL VP of International Business Chris Parsons. "As the series evolved, we felt as though having a team return to the U.K. on a regular basis would certainly increase the fan base for that particular team, which in turn would drive fan growth for the entire league. We think there is a tremendous benefit for a team to return to the U.K. on an annual basis." Except for a Monday night game against Indianapolis two weeks ago, every Buccaneers home game since the start of the 2010 season has been blacked out locally because it was not a sellout at Raymond James Stadium. Goodell acknowledged the league offers "financial incentives" for clubs willing to switch a home game overseas. "There are a number of teams that want to do it," said Goodell, without mentioning specific franchises. When Sunday's matchup was announced in April, the Bucs said season-ticket holders would be reimbursed to reflect the change from eight regular-season home games in Tampa to seven. That adjustment in Tampa Bay's home slate could end up being routine if the Glazers — who also own British soccer giant Manchester United — lobby the league for an annual spot in the NFL's international series. Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer did not return a call from The Tampa Tribune on Tuesday. "We are looking forward to promoting Tampa Bay's energetic young team on the world stage," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said when the Bucs-Bears matchup was announced in April. Meanwhile, the players who have fueled Tampa Bay's 4-2 start are warming up to London's chilly fall climate. "I understand what the league is doing — they're looking for new (revenue) streams," said veteran Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber. "The commitment to England is pretty evident, and it has its merits. It makes for an interesting trip for the guys and gives you a chance to be a little more global as a league." Goodell said the NFL remains "a far cry" from basing a permanent franchise overseas, although he didn't rule it out down the line. "The logistics for that would seem improbable, not impossible," Barber said. "What I can't ever see is playing the Super Bowl over there because it's the biggest sports event in America. I'm just glad we're leaving early for this game because Europe's a heck of a long trip … even if you get a great tailwind."

ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833

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