So I’m sitting here watching “NFL Football Fanatic” on the NFL Network. It’s a show about a man from Scotland who travels around to various NFL cities and talks to fans, players and coaches, attends tailgates and takes part in team traditions as he tries to decide which NFL team he likes most. So far, he’s covered the Falcons, Cowboys, Packers, Seahawks, Giants, Eagles, Chiefs and Rams in the first eight episodes. This particular episode that I was watching was in Philadelphia and it got me thinking…
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH OUR FANBASE IN TAMPA BAY?!?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the city of Tampa. I love our Buccaneers. I love my fellow Bucs fans. I’m an all-in krewe member of Buc Nation and I’ll never jump ship. That all being said…WE SUCK AS A FANBASE.
Seeing the deep seeded traditions in Green Bay, Philly, Dallas and New York. Seeing the L.A. Rams fans who watched in agony as their team left for St. Louis in 1995, only to see them return in 2016 and who always stayed faithful. Seeing the loud and proud fans in Kansas City. Seeing the passion and the power of the “12th Man” in Seattle. It all got me wondering, why don’t we have anything like that here in Tampa?
Why can’t we have something like that here in Tampa?
Look, I’m fully aware that the last decade or so has been rough for us as Bucs fans. No playoff appearances since 2008. No playoff wins since the Super Bowl in 2003. Only three winning seasons since 2008. Five seasons of five or less wins since 2008. It’s been ugly. No doubt about it. But we do have that one Super Bowl win. There’s still a dozen teams in the league that can’t say that. Hell, there’s still four teams that have never even played in a Super Bowl. The Browns, Lions, Texans and Jaguars all have yet to make it to the big game and yet they all had better attendance numbers than the Bucs last season. Cleveland has some of the most devoted and passionate fans anywhere and it’s historically one of the worst franchises in all of sports. The Texans haven’t been around that long but their fans can hold their own with almost any other fans in the league. The Bengals, Bills and Vikings have all been to Super Bowls but never won it. Yet in Minnesota they have the “VWO” (Viking World Order) which is a cool tradition with a ceremonial induction process. Cincinnati has the whole “Who Dey” campaign. Buffalo went to four straight Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993 and lost them all. They did make the playoffs last year but it was the first time since 2000 and yet nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills fans.
So what is it about us?
We’ve been around since 1976. We’ve won the division six times. We’ve made the playoffs ten times. We have one of the best stadiums in the entire league. We have one of the most state of the art practice facilities in the entire league. We have good ownership that doesn’t overreach. We have an awesome general manager. We have a young, talented team that could end up being really good for years to come. And we have a freaking pirate ship that fires cannons when the team scores!
What’s NOT to be excited about???
Last year, there were only five teams with lower home game attendance than Tampa Bay and two of them were the new franchises in Los Angeles. In 2017, the Bucs averaged almost 60,000 fans for their home games while the capacity in Raymond James Stadium is nearly 66,000 seats. What happened to the crowds? I remember being placed on the season ticket waiting list when they first opened up RayJay and it was supposedly 145,000 people strong. I believe it because I didn’t get that phone call until about four years later.
So what happened? Where did everyone go?
Is it all about the team winning? Maybe THAT would put more butts in the seats, right? Not necessarily. The Dolphins were 6-10 last year and have only made the playoffs twice since 2002. They were second in attendance for 2017. The 49ers are a combined 13-35 over the last three seasons and they were fourth in attendance last year. The Colts were 4-12 in 2017 AND played without Andrew Luck all season and yet they were sixth in attendance. On the flip side, the Steelers have only had one losing season (2003) in the last 18 years and their attendance last year was ranked 26th, just one spot better than the Bucs. Despite playing in a fancy new stadium and making the playoffs, the Vikings finished 25th in attendance for 2017. So it’s not necessarily based on winning percentage.
So what is it?
Maybe it’s the fact that the state of Florida is made up of so many people from up North who are fans of other teams? The only time the Bucs seem to sell out home games are when they play the Patriots, Giants or Steelers. I’ve seen that excuse thrown out there, but it doesn’t seem to hurt Miami’s attendance. The Jaguars were ranked significantly higher than the Bucs as well with 6% higher attendance and an average of about 5,000 more tickets sold per game. So can we really place the blame on the “snowbirds” and “yankees” if the other two Florida teams have much better attendance records? Not so much.
Can we blame the weather? By the time football season kicks off in early September, the miserable heat of summer is coming to an end and the weather is starting to change a little bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hot as balls outside for those first few weeks of the season but at least it’s somewhat tolerable for those 1pm kickoffs. And what’s Denver’s excuse? They hold the current record for NFL sellouts at 395 straight games. The thin air, snow and freezing temperatures of Sports Authority Field don’t seem to hamper their attendance. The Packers play in a field known as the “Frozen Tundra” for goodness sake and yet they were #1 in the league in attendance last year. And that was without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers for more than half the season. It’s just as cold and windy in Chicago where they finished 11th in attendance for 2017 despite not having a winning season since 2012 and not making the playoffs since 2010. The bitter cold of Soldier Field doesn’t seem to keep Bears faithful from supporting their team. Seattle has less than 60 days of sunshine per year and yet the “12th Man” still braves those elements to fill up CenturyLink Stadium with the third highest attendance in the league. Weather is NOT the issue either.
So what’s the excuse?
What’s the reason that the Tampa Bay community can’t seem to get behind this franchise? What’s stopping us? Sure there are maybe 40,000 or so fans that make it to every home game, but how many of them are really “die hard” fans? How many of them stand up, scream and yell the entire game and how many of them stay seated the whole game and tell the “die hards” standing in front of them to sit down and be quiet? The seating capacity of Raymond James Stadium is 65,890, but the Bucs only averaged 51,912 fans per game at the turnstiles last year. That’s down nearly 2.5% from 2016 and about 14,000 seats under capacity. An average of 59,952 tickets were distributed by the team meaning that an average of about 8,000 fans had tickets to every home game yet found something “better” to do rather than attend. That’s shameful.
What else is there?
Maybe it’s the economy? After all, it has been pretty bad over the last 10 years or so and Florida has been hit pretty hard. Then again, Detroit has fallen on some pretty tough times lately too and they still managed to have the 14th highest attendance in the league. The Bucs average ticket price is about $74 which is seventh lowest in the NFL. Even after raising ticket prices for the third straight year this year, they’re still one of the cheapest tckets in the league. The Lions average ticket price is higher at $85 per seat. In comparison, the Bears have the highest average ticket price in the NFL at $132 per seat despite having one of the oldest stadiums and one of the worst teams in the league. The league average for ticket prices is about $93 per seat. Why the ticket increases in Tampa? Not sure. Especially after a 5-11 season by a seriously underachieving team. And especially after a record $367 million in revenue that was brought in by the team in 2016. And especially when the value of the franchise is the highest it’s been in it’s history at nearly $2 billion. Not too shabby considering the Glazers bought this team in 1995 for $192 million. So is it the economy? Nah, I don’t think so.
The answer is that I really don’t know what the answer is.
I look at our fanbase and see too many bandwagon riders and ship jumpers. I see too many fairweather fans. I see too many Bucs fans battling and bickering with each other over social media. I see way too many opposing fans sitting in the lower bowl seats and hear way too many cheers for opposing teams at home games. I see too many Bucs fans sitting in their seats when the offense has the ball on third downs and not enough Bucs fans standing and yelling for the defense on third downs. I don’t hear enough Bucs fans yelling the TAMPA>>>>>BAY<<<<< chant inside RayJay during timeouts. I don’t see any tradition, ceremony or superstitions. I don’t see any anthems, mottos or fight songs. Sure, we had “Fire the Cannons!” and “Siege the Day!” and “Pound the Rock!” and those were fine I guess. They made for catchy hashtags at least. But they’re still no “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant or “Fly Eagles Fly” fight song. We don’t have a “Who Dat Nation” like the Saints or boast the loudest crowd in the league like the Chiefs. Or is it the Seahawks now? Anyway, they’re both pretty loud and tough for opposing teams to play in. And that’s how it should be. It’s called a “home field advantage” for a reason. It’s been way too long since the Bucs had one of those. That is IF they ever really did. They used to sellout home games. Back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s when they were actually winning football games, maybe they had a small taste of it. But where did it go? They lost a few games and changed a few coaches then all of the sudden it all disappeared? So where’d it go???
I don’t get it.
Isn’t YOUR team supposed to be YOUR team until death do you part? Look at all of these NFL fans that lose their teams to new markets. Los Angeles lost the Rams to St. Louis. Cleveland lost the Browns to Baltimore. Houston lost the Oilers to Tennessee. St. Louis lost the Rams back to Los Angeles. San Diego lost the Chargers to Los Angeles. And now Oakland is about to lose the Raiders to Las Vegas. I’m starting to get worried about losing our team if the support doesn’t improve. The NFL is considering putting a team in London and maybe Mexico. Do you think the Glazers wouldn’t at least consider the opportunity to move the franchise closer to their real moneymaker Manchester United in England? We should be grateful to still have a team in Tampa Bay and we should be showing the Glazers this in any way we possibly can and as often as we can. That means showing up to games. It means showing out at games.
Look, I’m not saying that I’m a better fan than other fans. We could all be better as fans. We could be a better fanbase as a whole. Some people refer to those of us who dress up in crazy costumes or wear masks or paint our faces as so called “superfans”. I disagree with that term. I’m just a fan who expresses my fandom differently than others. All I’m saying is that WE, as a fanbase need to be better. All I know to do is to continue doing my part. So I’ll continue being a season ticket holder. I’ll continue wearing my crazy costumes and masks. I’ll continue standing up in the South endzone for the entire game cheering and yelling my ass off. I’ll continue standing in that South endzone spot until the clock hits zero every game. That’s all that I can do. I just hope that I can inspire more people to do the same. And if enough people actually do the same, then maybe one of these days other team’s fans will be looking at our fanbase as an example of how fans should be. Maybe one day.
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!