Any team in Florida
Issue: Economic conditions and attendance
Every Florida team can claim it's been picked on in the wake of the recession, but all are suggesting collectively that NFL demand in the state is too soft to support three teams.
So who goes? The favorite target in recent years has been the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team tarps off nearly 10,000 seats in 76,900-seat EverBank Field on the flimsy premise that it's a "college stadium" that needs expanded capacity for bowl games. Well sorry to break this to you, Jacksonville, but there are about 19 stadiums in the league with an NFL capacity greater than the 67,246 you let into Jags games. Your 2005 Super Bowl was roundly panned, your new owner hasn't committed to a future in town and your city hall still needs to organize ticket-buying drives.
Even so, even though they've had help from sponsors, the Jaguars haven't had to black out a game in years. The Miami Dolphins can make a similar claim, but they've needed sponsor help in recent years as well. The team has been flailing (three winning seasons since 2003 and none since 2008), owner Stephen Ross had his request for publicly funded stadium renovations shot down by lawmakers and their odds of finally wresting an AFC East title from the New England Patriots this season seem as unlikely as a Golden Girls reunion.
Yet a rich history, deep-pocketed sponsors, celebrity co-owners and a city on the rebound will likely keep the Dolphins in place for a good, long time.
Nope, the one team in Florida that might be the best candidate for packing its bags is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The team blacked out six out of eight home games last season and 25 out of the past 29 overall. Management accepted the new blackout threshold and tweaked ticket prices. Granted, attendance for a majority of the team's blacked-out home games in the two seasons before this fell below the new 85% mark, but all the better for deflecting blame to the NFL itself.
Never mind that the team's $69.72 average ticket price is still the costliest in Florida despite being $10 below the league average, according to Team Marketing Report's Fan Cost Index. By comparison, Seattle Seahawks fans in a far more economically stable city paid $2 less to see their team play each Sunday last year. The Seahawks made the playoffs, while the Bucs didn't even make their local affiliate's broadcast most of the time.
So where would the Bucs go? Ask the Glazer family of owners, who punted Bucs home games to London in 2009 and 2011 because they were more profitable than playing them in Tampa. The Glazers are a bit preoccupied by England, what with owning one of its more storied Premier League franchises in Manchester United, so the NFL to them is a bit like their "football" is to the average Bucs fan -- an afterthought at best.
You have an ownership too rich and preoccupied with international wins to care and you have a local fan base too rattled by the recession and put off by years of mediocrity to make an investment. The result is a halfhearted attempt to field a competitive NFL team and a half-interested fan base almost hoping this week's Bucs game doesn't sell out so Fox can show the far superior NFC game of the week instead.
NFL owners don't usually put up with this kind of brazen apathy, but the Glazers would have to stay in Tampa long enough to notice. If the Glazers are trying to create enough institutional disinterest to move the team to London without generating so much as a belabored sigh, they're doing a brilliant job.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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