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Rick Stroud, Greg Auman and Matt Baker

Bucs and other NFL owners may have an agenda with preseason blackouts



The Bucs were incredibly eager to let fans know that both their preseason games will be blacked out this year.

The 'official,' word on Saturday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium came Tuesday. But for at least a week, the team has made no secret of the fact they expect the Aug. 28 game against Jacksonville will be dark as well.

There are plenty of reasons for the Bucs to be so candid in sharing such bad news.

Start with the fact that for the past two or three seasons, Bucs owners have been buying up their own remaining tickets at 34 cents on the dollar to keep the games on local television.

It's a big reason why the team has never failed to have a sellout since RJS opened its doors in 1998. That practice is unsustainable, especially considering the Bucs' inability to sell season tickets. The franchise once had a billboard boasting a waiting list of more than 100,000 for season tickets. That sign came down a long time ago and so has fan interest.

In March, co-chairman Joel Glazer foreshadowed the blackouts, citing the league's second-worst unemployment rate of 13.3 percent, the slumping economy and a 3-13 record in 2009. While he didn't give an exact figure of the Bucs' season ticket fan base, it's believed to be in the 40,000's, which is well below the 65,000-seat capacity of RJS.

For the Bucs, it's better to let Tampa Bay fans get a taste of their new reality in the hope that they don't like it and are motivated to buy some tickets, at least for the regular-season opener against the Cleveland Browns.  

The Bucs are not alone. There already have been preseason games blacked out in San Diego, Cincinnati and St. Louis and obviously will be plenty more.

The Glazers are on record saying they are in favor of expanding the regular season to 18 games. It will be a major point of discussion during talks with the NFL Players' Association on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The argument is that fans don't want to pay full price for preseason games, and nothing would help get that point across better than a ton of exhibition contests blacked out throughout the league.

(Of course, the NFL is the only professional sports league that charges full price for preseason games, so if they really listened to fans, they would've abandoned that practice years ago. Remember, NFL players only receive their base salary during the regular season).

This is not the worst of worlds for NFL owners, especially in Tampa Bay. There is no salary cap in 2010, which means no minimum  that teams have to spend on player costs. The Bucs, by design, have one of the youngest teams in the league and will have among the lowest payrolls again.

In 2009, the salary cap rose to $128-million, a $12-million increase, which was the largest in three years. The minimum for player costs was $107,748,000.

The Bucs would prefer to have every game sold out. But if ever there was a season that the Glazer family can absorb low ticket sales, it's 2010. The Bucs still figure to reap many more millions in profits with the ability to finally control the baseline on player salaries. Everybody knows that before a single ticket is sold, shared television revenues more than cover player costs each season.

If you examine the Bucs home schedule, which doesn't include many marquee opponents, their best chance for a sellout may be Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Week 6 against the defending Super Bowl champion Saints. Even then, they'll be relying on Steelers nation to travel well. 

Only a fast start by the Bucs this season is likely to prevent a large majority of home games from being blacked out.  

The message to fans? Get used to it. The message to players? Fans don't like paying full price for preseason games anyway, so let's do something about it.


[Last modified: Wednesday, August 18, 2010 1:22pm]


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