The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the National Football League’s most surprising success story on the field last year, and its most worrisome one off it. Despite going 10-6 — a seven-game improvement over the previous season — and remaining in the playoff race until the final snaps of the regular season, the Buccaneers failed to record a single sellout at 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium and, as a result, had all home games blacked out within a 75-mile radius.
The Buccaneers enjoyed that resurgence last year despite having one of the youngest teams in the league, so they are a popular pick to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and perhaps even contend for a Super Bowl berth in the loaded NFC. Yet while Buccaneers ownership is confident the team will perform better at the gate this season, it may take a Super Bowl run for sellouts to once again become commonplace at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998 and hosted capacity crowds for every Buccaneers home game through the 2009 season.
Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer told reporters recently that the team is “hoping” for sellouts this season but that “…there’s still a ways to go” to lure back the fans the team lost thanks to its current playoff drought as well as the bad Tampa-area economy. The Buccaneers haven’t won a postseason game since their victory in Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season and are 12 games under .500 in the last eight years. In addition, the unemployment rate in Tampa hit 12.6 percent in December 2010.
The Buccaneers took one step towards combating the skepticism of fans, as well as their tighter budgets, by dropping ticket prices for this season by as much as 31 percent and cutting parking fees to as little as $13.50 per game. They may also benefit from a fan-friendly schedule that includes two prime-time games against a pair of popular attractions in the Indianapolis Colts (Monday, October 3) and the Dallas Cowboys (Saturday, December 17).
Glazer told reporters single-game ticket sales — which began Friday, August 5 — were brisk thanks largely to the games against the Colts and Cowboys. He is hopeful the arrow continues pointing up as the Buccaneers re-establish themselves as a contender built to thrive over the long haul. While the Buccaneers moved quickly to sign their draft picks once the lockout was lifted and have indicated their desire to eventually re-sign young stars such as quarterback Josh Freeman and wide receiver Mike Williams, they have acquired just one player — punter Michael Koenen — via unrestricted free agency.
“Obviously, the economy here is still in bad shape in the Tampa Bay area,” Glazer said. “But we think as the team wins and we move forward and the plan continues, the fans will start coming back.
“I think there are some people waiting to see what happens this year, but the plan continues to roll along. Each day, more and more people buy into it.”