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Will poor outlook damage attendance?

It's probably the worst kept secret in the Tampa area, if not the NFL.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are predicted to be a cellar dweller a season after cleaning house, firing coaches and removing the face of the franchise.  The popular opinion is that with so many question marks and what appears to be so few answers, how can the Bucs contend in 2009? 

Those questions don't bother me too much as the season hasn't started and for every question, you can point to the 2008 Miami Dolphins as reasons why you can't count a team out this early in the year.  What does bother me is the overall pessimism in the Tampa area from fans.  Don't get me wrong, I was one of those people grumbling about our first round pick, I've had issues with some of the personnel decisions and how they were handled (*cough* Derrick Brooks *cough*), and most importantly with the spending, or lack thereof in both free agency or in extending our players.  I don't want to put dollars in the Glazer's pocket if they aren't willing to field a team and make that public commitment (by spending) to building a winning franchise. 

My family and I have renewed our season tickets (ironically enough, we paid the deposit 2 days before Brooks was cut, leaving us feeling a bit disgusted).  So I'm contributing my portion to the Glazer retirement fund, but it seems many others aren't.  It's no secret there are season tickets available, just turn on the radio or TV and you'll be hit with a commercial to buy Bucs tickets within 10 minutes.  This is the first season in over a decade that I can recall either A) season tickets being available with no wait list or B) a public advertising campaign to that point.

There are other factors that come into play.  Apparently the economy has been bad (who knew?), jobs are being cut, which stands to reason that average household income is down, thus less income to spend on luxury items like supporting the home town team.  But let's remove that from the equation.

The public sentiment around town is that the Bucs will be terrible this year.  Pessimism is definitely winning out and it seems that the public has given up on the team before the season started.  Having lived in the Tampa area most my life, I can't really quantify this, but it seems Tampa has become home to the flip flopper.  As the teams win (2002 Bucs, 2008 Rays), everyone hops on that band wagon, buys up the merchandise and recounts the days of yore when they started following the team (about five minutes ago).  When the losing streak comes about, the band wagon empties, the phone lines light up with negativity and shows like Duemig's light up with the negativity rants, how bad we are, and let's run the whole lot of them out of town.

The forum this will be most obvious is attendance.  If we play well, I expect to see attendance stay steady, maybe even go up.  If we play as bad as the average joe thinks we will, the later part of the season could have a lot of empty seats.  Looking back at some attendance numbers (courtesy of ESPN), it's no surprise where we fall with such a tepid fan base.

2008 - ranked 21st in league with average of 64,511 per home game

2007 - ranked 21st in league with average of 65,316 per home game

2006 - ranked 22nd in league with average of 65,582 per home game

We've ranked in the bottom half of the league which can be attributed to smaller max capacity (we've averaged filling 98.3% of the seats per year).

I don't post these numbers to show where we fell, but more as a reference point to look back at this year.  If we plummet further, we can point to the growing dissent in the Tampa area.  If we stay relatively the same, then all those people who swore they wouldn't go to Bucs games either A) didn't hold up to their word or B) were replaced by people with the willingness to spend.  Perhaps if the games are truly sold out, it will show that public opinion doesn't matter, and people will show up regardless of the product on the field, the view of the team, and the inaction of the owners.

Will people show up?  More importantly, will Bucs fans show up and preserve any type of home field advantage, or will visiting fans start to dominate the seats at the stadium?  If you don't have the cash to shell out for tickets, I understand that, but the flip flopping fair weather fans seem to be taking over the vocal majority here.  And with the growing pessimism, ticket sales have fallen (thus far).

We've heard that blackouts won't happen, that tickets are being sold, but who would have thought that it would take half season ticket packages and a barrage of ads to sell out Raymond James Stadium.  It's disappointing.  While the public opinion is low now, I hope once the season starts that those Tampa fans that paraded the streets in 2002 and were excited that "their" team won will still be fans this year, regardless of record. 

Once a fan, always a fan.