ORLANDO — A few years ago, a sign outside Raymond James Stadium boasted a waiting list of more than 100,000 fans for Tampa Bay Buccaneers season tickets.
Like that billboard, those potential customers have disappeared.
Bucs co-chairman Joel Glazer said Wednesday at the NFL owners' meetings that the team's season ticket base is in the "40,000s" and that it's likely home games next season will be blacked out on local television for the first time in the 15 years the Glazer family has owned the club.
"Based on where we're at today," Glazer said, ". . . realistically, we are staring at having games blacked out in our local market. I bring that up because I don't want people to be surprised when they get to September and . . . the game is not on TV. It's not what we want.
"We're working hard to avoid it, and I think people are starting to see what we're trying to do with younger players, and Josh Freeman, and building around that," Glazer added. "There is some excitement when we talk to people. But we're in unchartered waters that we haven't seen in 15 years."
Under NFL rules, if a game is not sold out 72 hours before kickoff, it cannot be shown locally on television. Those rules also apply to the NFL Ticket package on satellite systems like DirecTV.
At one point last season, although maintaining the games were indeed sold out, the Bucs had an actual attendance of less than 50,000 in the 65,890-seat stadium. Glazer said the team distributed thousands of tickets to local sponsors and charitable groups to avoid local television blackouts.
In an effort to increase ticket sales, the Bucs have lowered prices for next season. Tickets start as low as $35 per seat per game, and youth tickets are $25. But so far, nothing has worked.
"We worked very hard, whether it was with local sponsors or charitable groups or whatever to make sure those tickets were accounted for," Glazer said. "But that challenge (of selling out games) is becoming unreachable, so as we look forward, we say realistically, it's not going to be as easy to get that accomplished this year.
"We have not had a blackout since we've owned the team. We've been hit by two things. On-the-field performance is the No. 1 thing that gets people into the stadium. (A record of) 3-13 is not what people expect out of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Two, we've had the economy, which has hit people hard. As a result of those factors, there's no question we've lost season ticket holders, there's been a lack of excitement in the community and a lack of excitement about what's happening on the field."
Last year, the Detroit Lions — who have won two games in the past two seasons — had four home games blacked out. There were nine games blacked out league-wide last season and more are predicted in Jacksonville and San Diego.
"We've had a lot of focus on this in this offseason," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday. "I think everybody in that room (at the owners' meeting) understands what our fans are going through. The good news is that there are some signs that there is improvement.
"But there are a lot of people who are still suffering, and we have to be responsive to that as a league and as clubs."
In addition to the poor regular season record, the Bucs have not won a playoff game since their Super Bowl victory after the 2002 season.
"We take full responsibility," Glazer said. "I've always said if we win, people will be there. It's our job to win."