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Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be facing first TV blackout since 1997

When it comes to a local television blackout of Sunday's game against the Carolina Panthers, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be sailing straight into a perfect storm.

Tampa Bay is one of only four teams that haven't won a game this season, falling to 0-5 with Sunday's loss to the Eagles. They are playing a weak opponent in the 1-3 Panthers. And the weather forecast calls for clear skies and a humidity-free 77 degrees on Sunday, meaning there may be better places to spend the day than Raymond James Stadium.

Could this be the Bucs' first blackout since the home opener of the 1997 season?

At least for now, the Bucs say no.

"We don't anticipate the game will be blacked out," said Bucs spokesperson Jeff Kamis, who was quick to point out there were still tickets available, although he declined to say how many.

The NFL's blackout policy calls for teams to sell all regular tickets (excluding club seats and luxury boxes) by 72 hours before kickoff (in the Bucs case, that would be 1 p.m. on Thursday). If a sellout is close, teams can ask the league for a 24 hour extension.

The Bucs flirted with blackouts in their first two home games but informed the league at the 72-hour deadline that all tickets had been sold, thus keeping the games on local television.

If Sunday's game is blacked out, the only way to see it is by going to Raymond James Stadium, or by traveling at least 75 miles away from the Tampa Bay area to another television market.

The Bucs have gone 12 seasons without a blackout, back to the days of hot metal benches in the "Big Sombrero." They have never been blacked out for a game played at Raymond James Stadium.

"Certainly, we would want the games to be on TV," Kamis said. "The more people we have watching our games the better. And it's better for the fans. We want people in the seats, obviously. But we also want the fans to have an opportunity to see the team."

When the league says blacked out, it means it. There will be no access via any television system, including the NFL's Sunday Ticket on DirecTV or other satellite channels. The Sunday Ticket policy states that "If (a game) is blacked out on your local broadcast station, it will also be blacked out in your area on NFL Sunday Ticket."

Of the 76 NFL games played this season, four have been blacked out, according to NFL corporate communications manager Dan Masonson. It happened once in Detroit (their only win of the season), once in Oakland and twice so far in Jacksonville.

Masonson said that as bad as the economy is, there have been only nine blackouts in the NFL in the last four years. He compared that with the 1990s, when 31 percent of the league's games were blacked out.

Because of that, the NFL has no plans on lifting its blackout rules despite the struggling economy.

"It is a policy that works for us," Masonson said. "We feel to keep the product more attractive, it is better on television if they are shown with a sold-out crowd. This has been a policy that has worked for us for over 30 years and we don't have plans to change it."

The Bucs may be losing, but at least they don't have it as bad as the Jaguars. Jacksonville may have all its home games blacked out this season. Sunday's game against St. Louis is not close to selling out.

"We'd like to have all our home games on television," said Tim Connolly, senior vice president of business development. "We're not going to give up. It is a little more difficult because we're only 15 years old and Tampa Bay is much older. They have a lot more history, and a lot more recent history of success. They have a more solid fan base than we do.

"We hope every week that we can sell out. But I can tell you that there will be other blackouts this season."

Connolly said it is tough selling football right now, especially in Florida, where the economy has been hit particularly hard.

His team had no blackouts last season, Connolly said. Although there were some games that had between 3,500-4,000 tickets left at the 72-hour deadline, they were granted the extension and sold out in time. Connolly said this season, the number of tickets still unsold by the deadline is "significantly higher" than last season.

And even after a game was officially blacked out, ticket sales have only risen 5 percent to 6 percent, Connolly said.

"Florida is a second-home market," Connolly said. "A lot of people that own homes here are under water (financially) and living in Pennsylvania or New Jersey right now. They used to be ticket holders and that's what we're dealing with."

Should the Bucs get blacked out, another option for those who can't see the game live is NFL.com. The site will show free re-broadcasts for 72 hours starting at midnight the day of the game. The only time it is not available is during Monday Night Football.

If the game is blacked out, a spokesperson for the Fox network said that another game involving an NFC team would be shown in its place.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers could be facing first TV blackout since 1997 10/12/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 1:29am]

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