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Blackouts still possible despite Bucs' best efforts

Now that the Bucs have implemented the NFL's new optional television blackout rule, the Bucs are much more likely to be seen on the air in Tampa-St. Petersburg and surrounding markets (Orlando, etc).

But despite this move that is extremely popular among fans, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to seeing games on TV. To that end, let's take a look at how things might play out.

Here's what we know: The Bucs have just more than 51,000 non-premium seats in Raymond James Stadium. Because the new guidelines require that they sell at least 85 percent of those seats to lift local television blackouts, that puts the target number for lifting blackouts at less than 44,000 non-premium seats sold.

That seems achievable, but a look at some recent attendance figures shows the challenges the Bucs still face.

Last September, in a game against the Falcons, the Bucs drew a home crowd of 46,995, a figure that is total attendance – including club seats and suites.

In games against the Panthers and Seahawks in 2010, the Bucs drew 44,264 and 46,576, respectively. The low point: An October 2010 contest against the Rams that drew 42,020. Again, those numbers are total attendance, meaning the number of non-premium seats sold was even less. You can reasonably argue that in those contests, the Bucs would likely have fallen short of the general-admission sales minimum required to lift a blackout.

In other games, it seems there might have been a different result.

There have been a handful of non-sellouts in the past couple of seasons that were relatively well attended. Last season, the Bucs had somewhat stronger attendance showings in games against the Lions (51,274), Saints (56,590) and Panthers (56,270). A 2010 game against the Steelers (attended by a significant number of Pittsburgh fans) drew 61,036.

Those games might have had enough non-premium seats filled to lift blackouts, though we're guessing because those figures aren't available.

Projecting how things will work out this season is certainly an inexact science. But this much is sure after this little exercise: even under the new system, which makes blackouts far less likely, nothing can be assumed.

The Bucs have indicated sales have picked up this offseason, but make no mistake: Determining whether games are aired on local TV remains a week-to-week question in Tampa Bay.