TAMPA (TheStreet) -- If it's Sunday, it means some team with a pirate logo is going to be blacked out on local television. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you're up.
Going into Week 7, the NFL is notching its 10th blackout as the Bucs failed to sell all their tickets 72 hours in advance of Sunday's matchup against the St. Louis Rams. That puts the league on pace to equal or surpass last year's five-year high of 22 games taken off TV, thanks largely to the Buccaneers and the Oakland Raiders. Despite the Bucs fans recently being ranked fifth-best in the league by the
, the Bucs and Raiders have combined for 70% of the league's blackouts this year and show little evidence they'll sell out their stadiums any time this season.
Those empty seats earned them a trip to the principal's office when NFL's chief marketing officer, Mark Waller, included the teams on a
to address ticketing issues, fan apathy and the live-game experience in general. This Coalition of the Will-Call includes executives from the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets -- none of which have been blacked out this year and a few of which have displayed remarkable ability to make tickets disappear despite economic and on-field struggles.
That may not be enough to bring the Pirates of the Never-Seein' back to local
Fox affiliates anytime soon. At least Tampa Bay's admitted as much, telling fans who've coped with falling home sales and prices and unemployment 45% greater than the national average that the entire home slate will be blacked out. The Raiders have been a bit more optimistic, but the weakness of their remaining home slate, the economic realities in Oakland (where unemployment is near 20%) and the fact the Raiders haven't sold out a game since their home opener in 2009 adds a dose of delusion to their organization's hopes.
The two teams shouldn't expect the coalition to do away with the blackout policy, either, as it's pretty merciful by NFL standards. Before the league passed its current policy 1973, the NFL blacked out local-market television broadcasts of
home games regardless of ticket sales. When Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act in 1961, It specifically stated that antitrust laws do not apply to sports leagues selling collective broadcasting rights -- meaning the NFL can sell its TV rights and fashion its blackout policy however it likes.
From the NFL's perspective, this year's blackouts are troubling, but not really that bad. Fans had it much worse 1975, when the league blacked out 59% of its games. Those fans didn't have the online streams,
and other cities outside the blackout area or
package Bucs fans enjoy now. Then again, fans also didn't have to spend an average of $390 to take a family of four to a game during an economic downturn while their team collected millions in sponsorship fees from
Raymond James Financial
. Perhaps that's an item Bucs executives can address at the first committee meetings.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.