The 51,275 fans the team drew for its home opener two weeks ago was an improvement over the fewer than 50,000 that showed up for last year's kickoff, but is still well below the stadium's 65,000 capacity. It's not that fans don't care or that the 1-1 Bucs are abysmal. It's just that this season both the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins have exploited a loophole in the NFL blackout rule that allows teams to buy back unsold tickets at one-third of face value and give them away to keep home games on television.
Bucs ownership, including billionaire and Manchester United owner Malcolm Glazer, is well within its rights to call that approach unsustainable after more than a season of staring at empty seats. But fans who already chipped in $168.5 million in tax dollars to pay for Raymond James Stadium are also entitled to extend their longest digits in ownership's direction and keep seats empty amid 11% unemployment and a depressed housing market. This standoff has cost the Bucs 25% of their annual attendance since 2001, the year before they won Super Bowl XXVII, and dropped combined attendance from 516,000 in 2008 to 394,000 last year.
San Diego Chargers fans at least got the benefit of the doubt from the NFL yesterday when the team was granted a 24-hour extension to sell the 3,900 remaining tickets for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs. There's still a chance the tickets will sell and the game will air on CBS, but if it didn't it would be nothing new for Chargers fans. Last season, after the Chargers made the playoffs in five of the previous six seasons and sold out 48 consecutive home games at Qualcomm (QCOM) Stadium, the Chargers blacked out their of their first four home matchups. Just consider it early season form.
Maybe it would help if the Bengals, Bucs and Chargers had a hot rookie quarterback like Cam Newton and friends in high places who wanted to see him on local TV. The Carolina Panthers nearly had to black out Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the local CBS affiliate and NFL beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD) stepped in at the last minute to buy the remaining 1,200 seats at Bank of America (BAC) Stadium and give them to local charities, members of the military and emergency workers.Or maybe the blackout teams should just bring in a big-market team with a loudmouth head coach every week. The Oakland Raiders sold out their home opener against the New York Jets on Sunday and though Jets coach Rex Ryan's public and failed pursuit of former Raiders star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha helped a bit, putting Raiders home games on local television is nothing shy of a miracle no matter who comes to town. Since selling out their home opener in 2009, the Raiders have avoided the blackout deadline only once before -- on Nov. 7, when the Kansas City Chiefs came to town. In fact, the league has blacked out 83 of the Raiders' 129 home games since the team moved back from Los Angeles in 1995 as the team went a combined 95-152 during that span. The Raiders deserve just a bit of credit for Sunday's sellout, though, as last year's 8-8 record marked the first time the team won more than five games in a season since CBS commentator Rich Gannon led them to the Super Bowl in 2002. Ticket buybacks end blackouts, but sometimes winning helps, too. -- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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