It’s almost been 16 years since Jon Gruden and Malcolm Glazer hoisted that beautiful Lombardi Trophy. Since then, Bucs fans have endured one of the worst win/loss records in the NFL. In those 16 years, this team has only had 5 winning seasons going 100-154 in that span. But the Bucs are no strangers to losing. This franchise began with 26 straight losses from the 1976 season into the 1977 season. In fact, the Bucs are actually the “biggest losers” in NFL history with the worst winning percentage at .387 in their 660 games through the 2017 season. And it’s not even close. The next closest team to them is the Arizona Cardinals at .429 and the best winning percentage in the NFL belongs to the Dallas Cowboys at .573.
Losing is bad enough by itself, but it also means missing out on the playoffs. Since their historic Super Bowl win, the Bucs have only played in two playoff games (both wildcards) and lost them both. They haven’t even been to the postseason since the 2007 season when they finished 9-7 under Gruden. With the loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, the Bucs were “officially” eliminated from the playoff hunt and that ninth loss guarantees them to have their 29th losing season in 43 years. Even after going 7-37 in their first three seasons, the Buccaneers were able to reach the playoffs in three of their next four seasons. The really hard times came after that from 1983 to 1996 when Tampa fans endured 14 straight losing seasons. That’s 14 years of seven wins or less. That’s 14 years of no playoff games. That’s 14 years of bad teams playing ugly football. The Buccaneers went 64-149 in that time span and suffered 12 straight seasons with double-digit losses. That’s a lot for any sports fan to endure, but the ones who stuck around and didn’t jump ship were rewarded with six straight winning seasons and playoff appearances in five of the next six years including the Super Bowl win. These last 11 seasons may not have been as bad as the 83-96 years statistically, but it sure feels that way. Since Gruden got fired after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, Tampa has only had two winning seasons. In 2010, they somehow went 10-6 under Raheem Morris and then in 2016 Dirk Koetter went 9-7 in his first year as head coach. Hell, Tampa has only had 7 seasons in 43 years where they’ve had double-digit wins. That’s pretty bad.
So is all of this losing finally taking it’s toll on Tampa Bay area sports fans? It appears that way according to the attendance at Raymond James Stadium this year. In Week 12 when the Bucs hosted the San Francisco 49ers, the team had their lowest attendance numbers in 8 years with just 50,000 making it through the gate. The following week against their division rivals the Carolina Panthers, the Bucs tried to remedy the poor showing by offering season pass members two FREE additional tickets to bring family or friends. The results…about 2,000 more people showed up. Tampa has drawn just 380,000 fans to their home games this season. The only team to have fewer fans show up at home this year are the newly relocated LA Chargers with about 236,500 fans. In comparison, there are 28 teams that have had more than 400,000 fans show up for home games this year. The most is the Dallas Cowboys with just over 645,000 fans. The Bucs are averaging about 54,500 fans for each home game this year. That’s the lowest total since 2009 when they averaged just over 49,000 fans and down from almost 60,000 last year.
So why the drop? Is it the losing? Is it because the Buccaneers raised their ticket prices (yet again) despite going 5-11 last year? Don’t get me wrong, the Bucs still have some of the cheaper ticket prices in the NFL. It’s just the principle of it. How can this franchise feel comfortable enough to raise ticket prices (yet again) after putting such an inferior product out on the field? Why would most fans pay more to get into the stadium to see less success on the field? Ticket prices were raised for the third straight season in 2018, but the Bucs had gone 8 years without raising them prior to the 2016 season. The NFL average ticket price for this year is $100 and the Bucs average price per ticket is well under that at $85 a seat. Just to compare that number to others around the league, the LA Chargers have the most expensive tickets in the league at $199 (which might explain their league low attendance) and the Cleveland Browns have the cheapest tickets by far at $66 per seat. There are 8 teams with cheaper ticket prices than the Bucs while 23 teams are more expensive. I guess that could be it. It’s not cheap to go to an NFL football game these days even if the ticket prices are on the lower side. You still have to pay for parking ($20-25), food ($25-50), soda/beer ($25-40) and merchandise ($50-100). All the sudden, that $170 you spent on two tickets for the game can turn into $250-400 just like that. And that’s just for two people. It’s expensive, I get it.
I’ve seen some fans blame the “snowbirds” from up north. So many fans from other teams who move down here for retirement or live down here for the winter. When teams like the Steelers, Patriots or Packers come to town the visiting fans seem to far outweigh the home fans. Just a couple of weeks ago when the Saints came to town, there was more black and gold in the lower bowl sections of Raymond James than there was red. It was quite disgraceful. But is it an excuse? There may be tons of fans from up north down here wanting to buy tickets, but that doesn’t stop the Tampa fans from buying them. Does it? There’s more to it than that. It’s not an excuse in my book.
Maybe it’s just the Tampa Bay area sports fans. I mean the Tampa Bay Rays were near the bottom of the MLB for their attendance in 2018 despite having a winning season with a 90-72 record. However, the Tampa Bay Lightning are second in the NHL for attendance just behind the Montreal Canadians and ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks. Then again, they’ve had five straight winning seasons and have been to the playoffs in four of those five years. So is it the winning that brings the fans in or do the fans help the teams win more games? It’s the old “chicken or the egg” question.
The Lightning franchise started out with nine losing seasons in their first ten years and ranked 25th in the league in attendance during the 2000-01 season. In the 2001-02 season, the Lightning were 20th in the league in attendance and finished with a 27-40 record. The next season, they finished 36-25 and made the conference finals while their attendance jumped to 16th. In the 2003-04 season, they finished 46-22 and won the Stanley Cup while climbing to 12th in attendance. There was a lockout for the 2004-05 season, but in 2005-06 they made the playoffs again with a 43-33 record and their attendance was all the way up to 2nd in the NHL. Since 2002, they’ve only had six seasons where they haven’t made the postseason and only four of those were actual losing seasons. Winning brings in more fans. More fans brings more home field advantage. More home field advantage in turn brings more wins, which brings more fans. Get the picture?
The Rays started their franchise off with 10 straight losing seasons before finally finishing with a 97-65 record in 2008 and getting to the World Series. They made the postseason in four of the next six seasons and their attendance never got higher than 22nd in the league. Other than that, they’ve been at or near the bottom of the MLB every year. In 2018, they finished 90-72 and were still 29th out of 30 teams in attendance. Their success didn’t put more asses in the seats. The location of one of the worst stadiums in baseball doesn’t help , but it appears that nobody cares enough about the team to do anything about that since the idea for a brand new ballpark in Tampa got shot down. The Buccaneers don’t have that excuse. They have one of the best football stadiums in the NFL to play and watch a game in. So what’s Tampa Bay’s deal?
It’s not for a lack of spending on the Glazers part. They spent $32 million on the Buccaneers headquarters, “One Buc Palace”. They’re spending $150 million on renovations to Raymond James Stadium. They spent another $20 million on the fancy new indoor practice facility. Bucs ownership is dropping a fortune in an attempt to make their fans training camp and game day experience more enjoyable and yet nobody is taking advantage of it. Why is that?
I’ve been a Bucs fan all my life as I was born and raised in the area. All I know is Buccaneer football. This team has about 30,000 die hard fans who either buy season tickets every year or at least attend home games on a regular basis. That’s less than half of Raymond James capacity of almost 66,000 seats. They average about 54,000 fans at each home game which is about 83% of the stadium’s capacity. If you subtract the die hard fans from that number, it leaves about 24,000 seats. Out of those, at least 10,000 of them are visiting fans depending on who’s playing which means that roughly 10,000 fans are there “just for the fun of going to an NFL game”. This team needs more “die hards”. They need more season ticket holders. They need more fans who are there to stand and yell and cheer as loud as they can for four quarters instead of sitting in their seats looking at their phones and not paying attention to the game at all. They need more people in the seats who are there to support the team and not just to socialize and hobnob with friends. They need more Bucs fans in the stands. Not opposing fans. Not football fans. Not “fans” that think the Bucs starting quarterback is Jameson Winston. Not the one guy that shows up to the Bucs vs Saints game wearing the Tom Brady jersey or the guy at the Bucs vs Redskins game wearing the Cowboys jersey. More Bucs fans…period.
So how do they get there? Is it as simple as winning more games? Would that bring more Bucs fans back? The year after the Bucs won the Super Bowl, the 2003 season, they still only averaged about 65,000 fans for home games which means they still weren’t quite selling out even though it was 10,000 more than they’re averaging now. I’m not sure what the solution is to be honest. The Glazers are spending money on the team and facilities. The tickets are relatively cheap. The stadium is state-of-the-art. The food is good. We have a freaking pirate ship that fires cannons inside our stadium for god’s sake! What else can fans want?
I just think this team needs more fans who will be there no matter what. I was born in 1975 so all I remember growing up were the creamsickle “Yucks” who lost 149 games in 14 years. I lived through it and survived. I was there for the good years with Tony Dungy and Jon Gruden. I’ve been here through the last crappy 11 years of losing. And I will continue to be here for as long as the Buccaneers are in Tampa Bay. This team needs more fans like that. More fans that sit there in the blazing summer sun or the cold winter rain and cheer them on. More fans that stay until the clock hits all zeros no matter what the score is instead of trying to “beat the traffic”. More fans who bleed pewter and red until they’re cold and dead. More fans who want to support this team no matter what their record is for the season. More fans who start every year with the hopes and expectations that THIS is the year the Bucs are back no matter what happened the season before.
I’m not saying that I’m a better fan than anyone else. Don’t get this rant twisted. I’m just a fan. All be it a die hard fan, but still just a fan. I’m just sick and tired of seeing so many opposing team’s fans sitting around the lower bowl of our stadium. I’m tired of the visiting fans being louder than the home fans on third downs. I realize that the team needs to change it’s culture and it’s mentality, but maybe the fans do too. I know that a winning team would probably bring more fans in. But what if we tried a little experiment to see what happens when this team actually has a real fan base behind them? Why don’t we try giving this team an actual home field advantage for a change and see how they react to it and what they do with it? Let’s do away with the fairweather fandom and the “jump ship chumps” as my friend “Big Nasty” Keith Kunzig would say and actually get behind this team for a change. Let’s just try it out next season and see what happens. What do you say, Tampa Bay?
Until then, as always…GO BUCS!!!