TAMPA — Trying to keep fans upbeat despite an 0-3 start, the Buccaneers announced Thursday that they will make sure their seven remaining home games air on local television.
It's a change in policy for a team that saw just five of 24 home games from 2010-12 shown locally because of NFL blackout rules designed to encourage home attendance. If fewer than 85 percent of nonpremium seats — the NFL's threshold — are sold, the Bucs will write a check to the league to keep games in local living rooms.
"It's a tremendous commitment from the organization to our fans and to the Tampa Bay area," said coach Greg Schiano, whose team seeks its first win of 2013 on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, in a game airing on WTVT-Ch. 13. "I'm thrilled … that our fans will get to see us every week at home whether they're there in person" or not.
The Bucs said "the majority" of the seven remaining home games are "projected to surpass" the blackout threshold, but Sunday's game is well short. Teams can avoid blackouts by buying unsold seats — believed to be several thousand in this case — at a 66 percent discount.
"In appreciation of the loyal support of our fans throughout the Tampa Bay area, we have committed to televise the remaining home games of the 2013 season," Bucs co-chairman Bryan Glazer said in a statement released by the team.
The team declined a request for executives to be interviewed.
The burden of buying unsold seats will fall on the Bucs and not local TV stations or their sponsors. WTVT referred questions to the Fox network's national public relations staff, which did not respond to calls.
Thursday's move comes in contrast to how the team previously handled local TV broadcasts. In recent years, even when Tampa Bay was close to the NFL's required minimums, local games were blacked out for a 75-mile radius from Raymond James Stadium. In its heyday, the team said a waiting list for season tickets exceeded 100,000 fans. But blackouts have been the norm since 2010. Last season, the Bucs ranked 31st among 32 NFL teams in average announced attendance (55,102) and percent of stadium filled (83.9).
Team officials had been encouraged about improved attendance in 2013. The home opener against New Orleans on Sept. 15, carried on local TV, drew an announced 60,870, not far from the stadium's listed capacity of 65,890. But now the Bucs are 0-3, including Sunday's 23-3 loss at New England.
The team announced Wednesday that Josh Freeman, its starting quarterback the past four years, was benched in favor of rookie Mike Glennon. The Bucs have started 0-3 on 11 other occasions and never finished with more than six wins in those seasons.
With that in mind, Schiano said Thursday that while he is grateful for the team's gesture to air all home games, he understands his job is to get the stadium filled again; something he'll only do with a change on the scoreboard.
"We've got to win. I'm not naive to that," Schiano said. "We win, that'll come back."
Greg Auman can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @gregauman and check out the Times' Bucs blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.