Sunday's Bucs-Browns game will be blacked out in the Tampa Bay area, making it the first regular-season Bucs game not to be aired locally since Oct. 26, 1997. Because it has been so long, we need a bit of a refresher on how this whole blackout thing works.
What is the blackout rule?
Put into effect by the NFL in 1973, it states that if a game is not sold out 72 hours before kickoff, it is not aired within a 75-mile radius from the stadium.
Does that mean you can watch the game 76 miles from the stadium?
Not necessarily. Markets outside of 75 miles might be showing another game. Take this Sunday. CBS has the rights to the Bucs-Browns game. Fort Myers is more than 75 miles away from Tampa, but its CBS affiliate is showing the Bills-Dolphins game. Tallahassee is more than 75 miles away, but the CBS affiliate there is showing the Broncos-Jaguars game. Orlando is considered the Bucs' "secondary market,'' meaning the blackout rule applies there, too. However, sports bars more than 75 miles away that carry the NFL Sunday Ticket, which picks up all games through DirecTV or satellite dishes, will be able to show the game.
What if you have the Sunday Ticket on DirecTV or some other cable outlet and you live within 75 miles? Will you be able to see the game?
No, the blackout rules still apply.
What about local sports bars?
Again, you're out of luck. The game is blacked out to all businesses and households within 75 miles of Raymond James Stadium.
Aren't there pirate websites on the Internet that pick up blacked out games?
We can neither confirm nor deny such sites exist. Well, we could, but seeing as how it's technically illegal, you're on your own.
So when the Bucs are blacked out, will we get a replacement game on television in that time slot?
Yes. This Sunday, for example, the local CBS affiliate (Ch. 10) will pick up the Bills-Dolphins game. Most Bucs games this season will be covered by Fox (Ch. 13) because it carries NFC games and the Bucs are an NFC team. CBS carries the AFC. For interconference games, the away team determines which network picks up the game. If it's an AFC team, the game is carried by CBS. If it's an NFC team, the game is carried by Fox. NBC (Ch. 8), ESPN and the NFL Network also carry games, but no need to worry about that because the Bucs aren't scheduled to appear on those networks. Among the Bucs' eight home games, six are on Fox and two — Sunday and Sept. 26 against Pittsburgh — are on CBS.
Who selects the replacement game we see when the Bucs are blacked out?
Officially, the game is selected by the networks. However, the local affiliate can give its input.
Why are we getting Bills-Dolphins?
Quite frankly, the Bills-Dolphins looks like the worst of the possible replacement games. Other games at 1 p.m. on CBS: Raiders-Titans, Broncos-Jaguars, Colts-Texans and — what appears to be the best game of all — Bengals-Patriots. CBS chose the Bills-Dolphins game for here because it assumes there is a Dolphins following in the bay area. Rob Correa, CBS's executive vice president of programming, said, "The Dolphins-Bills game seemed like the natural choice for the Tampa Bay market.''
So does that mean we're going to be stuck watching the Dolphins whenever the Bucs are blacked out?
No. Most Dolphins games are on CBS because they are an AFC team. Most of the Bucs games are going to be on Fox. That means we're probably more likely to see games involving fellow NFC South teams: Saints, Falcons and Panthers.
Is there any other way to watch Sunday's game?
Well, you could actually go to the game. Or you could travel outside of the 75-mile blackout zone and find a sports bar that is showing all of the NFL games. Or you can wait until midnight — 11 hours after kickoff — and watch the game on your computer. Like last season, NFL.com will make blacked out games available to the local markets beginning at midnight. The game will be available for 72 hours except for the window when the Monday Night Football game is played. This Monday, there will be two games (at 7 and 10:15). So that expands the amount of time you will not be able to watch the Bucs-Browns game.
What else can Bucs fans do to follow the game?
It's still available on radio on 620-AM and 103.5-FM. NFL.com and other national websites have in-game trackers that spit out the details of the game. And of course (shameless plug alert) you can follow the latest news on tampabay.com and our Bucs Beat blog at tampabay.com/blogs/bucs.
Tom Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.