TAMPA, Fla. (TheStreet) -- It's already been a long week for Tampa sports fans. Having their entire slate of NFL home games blacked out will make it a long winter as well.
After being berated by their Tampa Bay Rays late in the season for not filling Tropicana Field, fans of the American League East champs saw their squad drop two straight, rally to two wins on the road then come up lame against pitcher Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers as their Major League Baseball playoff run came to a quick, ignoble end. What was their reward for being shamed into buying tickets to three playoff losses? Hearing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announce on Monday -- well before today's 72-hour deadline -- that the Bucs wouldn't sell out Sunday's matchup with the reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
That was the good news. The bad news, as stated by Bucs Director of Communications Jonathan Grella, is that the Bucs likely won't sell out any of their home games this season -- meaning the team's remaining five home games will be blacked out for home television audiences. Umm ... go, Tampa Bay Lighting?
There are several groups who should be outraged about this. The first is the team itself, which dropped ticket prices 2.9% from last season and has put together a 3-1 record, including a dramatic win against the Cincinnati Bengals last week. Most Bucs fans have missed half of those games. Sponsors such as Coca-Cola (K), Hess (HES) and Ford (F) should be angry as well, as the audience for their signage and other contributions shrunk from millions to less than 60,000. Raymond James Financial (RJF), in particular, should be extremely upset that the $1.3 million in stadium naming rights it will be paying through 2026 will be paying for a facility that no potential local customers are seeing on television or attending.The team's fans, however, have amassed a full pirate's chest of ire over the past year, and the Buccaneers only account for a few doubloons of it. The Tampa area's unemployment rate rose to 12.6% in August, roughly 45% higher than the national average. The region relies heavily on its real estate market, which is feeling as much pain as the Bucs and their fans. Tampa-area home sales fell 6% in August from the same time last year after dropping 19% in July. Median home prices are also down to $134,000 from $146,500. Buccaneers head coach Raheem Morris scored points with fans earlier this year by placing blame for the team's and its fans' woes squarely on the NFL and its archaic, draconian blackout policy. By turning its Jolly Roger into a white flag and announcing a season's worth of home game blackouts, the Buccaneers are strongly suggesting that not only is the blackout policy not forcing fans to buy tickets, but may actually be driving them away. That's the quandary in trying to attract young fans and new blood to the NFL: They actually need to see the product each season. Take the Oakland Raiders -- the Buccaneers' Super Bowl XXXVII opponents and brethren in pirate logos and blackouts -- for example: Their fans haven't seen a home game on television since the 2009 home opener, they've had 10 straight home games blacked out and they've missed 79 of the Raiders' past 123 home games since the team moved back to Oakland from Los Angeles in 1995. Yet the Raiders' only two wins this season -- including last week's 35-27 victory that snapped a 13-game losing streak against their division rival San Diego Chargers -- have come at home. Sure, they haven't won more than five games in a season since 2002, but if home fans aren't seeing those wins, how are they supposed to stand by the team when it loses? -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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