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NFL Blackouts Put Heat on Florida

Each of those teams have struggled to get home games some screen time in recent years. The Bucs had all eight of last season's home games blacked out after failing to sell out Raymond James Stadium for the first time since it opened in 1998. Billionaire owner Malcolm Glazer, who also owns English soccer powerhouse Manchester United, has shown no interest in exploiting buyback loopholes to fill seats even as Fox Business reports that Tampa's attendance has dropped nearly 25% since 2001, the year before the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXVII. Since 2008, the Buccaneers' total annual attendance has dropped from 516,000 to 394,000.

"The NFL definitely don't want people to know they can buy up tickets for 33 cents on the dollar and give them to charity," says Brian Frederick, executive director of fan advocacy and lobbying group Sports Fans Coalition. "That Malcom Glazer didn't buy up tickets to the home opener on 9/11 is amazing."

The Jaguars, meanwhile, had seven of eight home games blacked out in 2009 before a huge civic ticket drive and an unexpected playoff push. Jacksonville's mayor and city council have implored fans to buy season tickets for the second year in a row, but half-season packages and other perks haven't been enough. Thousands of tickets remain unbought and the Jaguars have turned online blackout meters from a 2010 preseason gimmick to a 2011 fixture.

"Folks are very frustrated in Florida, and it's the economy, stupid NFL," Frederick says. "It's clearly a case where the teams are worth supporting but the fans just can't do it."

The problem is that the expectations of the teams, owners and NFL just aren't based on Florida's economic reality. Florida's 10.7% unemployment rate is the fifth-worst in the nation, well above the 9.1% national average. The military helps keep Jacksonville's rate below the state average at 10.4%, but 11% unemployment in Tampa and Miami has been taking its toll on sports attendance in the former for a while and may finally be creeping up on the NFL in the latter.

Florida's teams are battling blackouts alone, but their cold-weather neighbors to the north are just better at hiding the ugliness under a few layers. The Lions sold out Sunday's home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, but have lost 25.2% of their attendance since 2001 and had a home game blacked out last season. Those woes came with a little help from Detroit's 14.1% unemployment and a lot of assistance from the team's 39-121 record during that stretch, which included a 0-16 season right in the middle of the 2008 housing crisis.
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