TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made great gains on the field in 2010, their 10 wins making them the most-improved team in the NFL this season.
But after their season was marred by large patches of empty seats in the stands and the highest number of television blackouts in the league, the Bucs are responding in concerted fashion.
The team on Tuesday announced reductions in many season-ticket prices, lowering the cost of "tens of thousands" of tickets at Raymond James Stadium. Average attendance in 2010 was more than 15,000 below capacity, and the team failed to sell out any of its games for the first time in more than a decade.
While most prices in the lower bowl will remain flat, reductions as great as 31 percent will be seen in the upper deck, including "upper sideline" seats that will be slashed from $75 to $52. Over the course of 10 home games (two in the preseason and eight in the regular season), a season-ticket holder would save $230 on each of those seats.
The Bucs are making other reductions, including some on parking rates, 10 percent discounts on food, beverages and merchandise for season-ticket holders and youth tickets 50 percent off adult admission.
The moves were made in reaction to feedback from fans and in response to a lagging local economy that continues to adversely affect ticket sales.
"Our organization has spent a lot of time listening to our fans at this time when our team is thriving and our economy is not," co-chairman Joel Glazer said in a statement. "As a result, we are now offering several pricing changes in response to our community's needs."
The team received that feedback primarily through a sales force it calls the largest in the NFL. The team said it fields more than 1,000 calls per day from fans and has tracked the responses from callers to help make changes to the ticket-price structure. Fan response was a chief reason the team in November introduced a 10-month payment plan on season tickets.
Given the bleak situation, the need for changes was clear.
The Bucs saw all eight regular-season home games and both home preseason games blacked out this season per NFL policy. Blackout rules prohibit games from airing in a local television market if a contest is not sold out 72 hours before kickoff. That left many avid fans unable to see what became an exciting, up-and-coming team that barely missed the playoffs.
After 13 consecutive years of sellouts, Tampa Bay's attendance plunged in 2010. The Bucs averaged 49,314 spectators at Raymond James Stadium, a venue that holds more than 65,000. That ranked second to last in the NFL, ahead of only the Raiders.
Attendance had eroded for several years for myriad reasons. After the expiration of the original 10-year seat-deposits — agreements entered into when the stadium opened in 1998 — thousands of fans opted out. That, plus an overhaul of the team in 2009 that included the firing of coach Jon Gruden and a subsequent 3-13 season, compounded the problem.
The final blow was delivered by the local economy, which co-chairman Bryan Glazer has cited as being among the worst in any NFL market.
Given the reductions, the Bucs will likely have one of the most competitive average ticket prices in the league in 2011. Last season, the Bucs were slightly below the NFL median with an average ticket at $72.10, according to research from the Team Marketing Report.
Price reductions aren't unprecedented.
The Detroit Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars reduced select ticket prices last season, but neither team's biggest discounts approached the 31 percent markdown by the Bucs. Both teams saw attendance increases from 2009.
Beyond the biggest decrease on upper sideline seats, other examples of the Bucs' reductions include a decrease from $99 to $89 on some end zone seats and reduced youth tickets.
Available for 16 and younger, youth tickets are now applicable to any upper-level seat at half price. Last season, youth seats were limited only to the upper corners and not discounted this deeply. Youth tickets in upper corners start at $17.50, half of the $35 adult seats in those sections.
The Bucs host the Bears, Cowboys, Lions, Texans, Colts, Falcons, Panthers and Saints in 2011.
Stephen F. Holder can be reached at email@example.com.