Facing the first Tampa Bay Buccaneers TV blackouts since 1998, local pub owners expect to take a hit in the cash register this fall.
But not a big one.
The hometown NFL team that struggled last year on the field faces a rebuilding year on the sports bar circuit, too.
"We have a couple dozen regulars who will be disappointed, but they'll just watch another game," said Vicki Doble, owner of the Tampa Bay Brewing Co. in Tampa. "Last year I noticed more talking than watching during Bucs games. Some stopped paying attention after so many losses."
Kirk Dreyfus, bar manager at Chammps Americana sports bar in Tampa, said he's seen more people coming in to watch other teams because of the Bucs' crummy record in recent years.
"In my four years here, the Bucs have had only one winning season," he said.
Last year, the Bucs avoided local broadcast blackouts, which occur when NFL teams don't sell out their home games. It seems as though that won't be the case this fall. For instance, Saturday's preseason home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs has not sold out and will be blacked out within 75 miles of Raymond James Stadium. The 10-county blackout includes pay-per-view service including Bucs games broadcast on NFL Sunday Ticket, which is aired in dozens of local sports bars.
"It's ridiculous they're blacking out games, but I don't think it will hurt us much," said Jeff Barrett, manager at Gator's in Treasure Island, which last fall drew 500 to big Florida college games but about 100 for Sunday Bucs games. "People here are especially fair-weather fans who revert to an old favorite NFL team when the Bucs are losing."
Barrett and several sports bar managers would prefer more Bucs wins because local fans who whooped it up during the Bucs glory days tend to spend more.
In playoff years, sports bars were often packed. But since the team's recent extended swoon, more transplanted locals hit the bars to follow their previous home teams with winning records like the Steelers, Saints, Patriots, Colts and Cowboys.
Dave Mangione, a partner in Hattricks, a downtown Tampa sports bar often jammed with 100 Bucs fans on Sundays, agreed that fans will find other teams to follow on TV.
"People are still going to watch their football," he said.
With the Bucs in the NFL's second-worst market for joblessness behind Detroit, the team said its ticket sales plight is as much about local economics as wins and losses. Two of last year's playoff teams, San Diego and Cincinnati, imposed blackouts last week.
Restaurants equipped with NFL Sunday Ticket say their Sunday business is better during the NFL season than the offseason. But the service provides them 14 other NFL games to show when the local team is blacked out.
"We would prefer the home team broadcast because of the spirit it generates," said Neil Kiefer, chief executive of the franchisee that owns all 14 bay area Hooters. "But when the Bucs are on, TV people are more likely to watch the game at home. When the Bucs are blacked out, we offer them games they cannot see at home."
Mark Albright can be reached at [email protected].com or (727) 893-8252.