TAMPA — The Bucs will take full advantage of a new NFL rule that significantly reduces the likelihood of local television blackouts of their home games, the team announced Friday.
Tampa Bay has agreed to allow games to be shown on local television if at least 85 percent of general admission seats at Raymond James Stadium are sold 72 hours before a game, beginning in the fall.
Formerly, the NFL required that all general-admission seating be sold out in order for games to be televised. But the league settled on a rule change in recent weeks that lets teams lower the blackout threshold to as low as 85 percent of general admission tickets sold.
Based on the 51,000-plus general admission seats in Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs will need to sell fewer than 44,000 per game to reach the 85 percent threshold.
The Bucs averaged 56,614 in total attendance for their seven 2011 regular-season home games (one was played in London), about 87 percent of Raymond James Stadium's capacity of 65,000. The total attendance figure includes what is classified as premium seating, which includes club and suite tickets. Attendance figures for non-premium seating alone weren't available.
The Bucs have struggled to sell out home games in recent seasons; 13 of 15 home games played in Tampa during the past two seasons weren't sellouts and, as a result, weren't televised locally. Before that, to avoid blackouts the Bucs took advantage of a loophole that allowed teams to lift blackouts if they agreed to satisfy revenue-sharing requirements by paying 34 cents on the dollar for unsold tickets.
Friday's move continues the Bucs' recent efforts to show goodwill to fans through a number of tactics.
"We hope that this move, along with lower ticket prices, starting at $30 for adults and $15 for children, will lead to more televised Buccaneer home games this year," Bucs vice president of business administration Brian Ford said.
Prices on 80 percent of seats have been reduced, with other prices remaining flat for a fourth consecutive season. Some of the price cuts were steep; select lower-level end zone seats, which last season were priced at $89, are now $75 per game on season-ticket plans.
The Bucs have initiated an all-out effort to sell out their Sept. 9 season opener against Carolina, offering free parking in select lots, half-price on food and nonalcoholic concessions. The team also will honor cornerback Ronde Barber's expected 200th consecutive start.
Not every team decided to avail itself of the NFL's new blackout rule.
The Titans, Colts, Chargers and Bills are among teams that declined to take advantage. The Titans said they are confident they'll continue a streak of 13 straight seasons of sellouts. Other teams generally cited a need to maximize revenue with ticket sales, saying it wasn't financially prudent to adopt the new rule.
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"We're a small-market team, and we need people in the stadium," Colts executive Pete Ward told the Indianapolis Star. "While we value all of our fans, our first priority is to protect the investment of paying customers."
In Buffalo, CEO Russ Brandon said, "We are a volume-based franchise. For us to be successful, we have to keep our ticket prices low and sell a great number of tickets."
The Bucs must adhere to the 85 percent threshold — the lowest the NFL is allowing teams to have — all season, meaning they can't change it depending on the opponent. And if they start selling out games, they are on the hook to split revenue with the visiting team on every ticket sold above 85 percent capacity.
Teams face a Sunday deadline to decide on blackout restrictions for 2012.