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Reported changes to NFL blackout rules might benefit Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans

TAMPA — Bucs fans might see more games televised locally after NFL owners reportedly voted to soften the league's television blackout rules.

Team owners have passed a resolution that allows blackouts to be lifted when as little as 85 percent of seats are sold, according to a story Saturday in the Wall Street Journal. Currently, the NFL blackout policy requires all nonpremium seating — basically all general-admission seats — to be sold 72 hours prior to a game before the blackout can be lifted. Blackouts apply to markets within a 75-mile radius of the stadium.

The Bucs had five of their seven regular-season games played in Tampa blacked out last season; all eight regular-season games were blacked out in 2010.

Teams will have the ability to set their own sales target in relation to blackouts as long as it is 85 percent or higher, the Journal reported. On Saturday, the Bucs deferred to the league for comment.

The Bucs averaged 56,614 in their seven 2011 regular-season home games (one was played in London), about 87 percent of Raymond James Stadium's capacity of 65,000.

Attendance leaguewide has dropped 4.5 percent since 2007, the Journal reported, and season-ticket waiting lists, long a staple of NFL franchises, have vanished in several cities. Full-season tickets are available on the websites of 20 of the league's 32 teams, according to the report.

Ticket prices have climbed in recent years, the Journal reported, from an average $72.20 in 2008 to $77.34 last year, according to Team Marketing Report.

Meanwhile, the NFL continues to struggle with the fact that it's increasingly difficult to pry fans away from high-definition televisions and packages that allow them to watch all games.

The Bucs responded to these challenges by making widespread reductions on ticket prices for 2012.

Prices on 80 percent of seats have been reduced, with other prices remaining flat for a fourth consecutive season. Some of the discounts were steep; select lower-level end zone seats, which last season were priced at $89, are now $75 per game on season-ticket plans.

"Listening to our fans, the overwhelming recommendation they made is more value and more options between the most affordable seats and the most exclusive," Bucs co-chairman Ed Glazer said after the announcement in November.

In detailing their ticket-pricing plans, the Bucs foreshadowed one of the moves noted in the Journal report. The newspaper said at least four teams were expected to have free wireless Internet access in their stadiums, something the Bucs already have announced for their home games.

Fans at some point also will have the ability to use a mobile app that will provide access to a feed of on-field conversation from certain players who will wear microphones, according to the report. And this season, for the first time, fans at the game will be able to watch the same instant replays the referees see during reviews, the Journal reported.

Such offerings are all part of the league's effort to turn around the trend of declining attendance.

"The at-home experience has gotten better and cheaper, while the in-stadium experience feels like it hasn't," Eric Grubman, the NFL's executive vice president of ventures and business operations, told the Journal. "That's a trend that we've got to do something about."

As for the blackouts, the league already gave teams some measure of discretion. A little-known policy allowed owners to "buy up" unsold tickets for 34 cents on the dollar, allowing teams to lift the blackout while still satisfying revenue-sharing requirements. This new policy, however, eliminates the financial penalty associated with the old system.

Reported changes to NFL blackout rules might benefit Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans 06/30/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 11:41pm]
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