I have a confession to make. As a season ticket holder (in one form or another) since 1998, I had decided that I was no longer enjoying games at Raymond James. The team was quitting on the field, the stands were filled with angry and apathetic fans who seemed to want to be there less than I did. My wife took to bringing her Kindle to games (she was never a football fan anyway). Apparently the Hunger Games were a lot more interesting than what was going on the field.
Now, don't take me for a fair-weather fan. While I may have only been a season ticket holder since the late 90's, I have been going to games all my life. My first game was when I was a wee pup at the age of four - 1977. The Bucs won their first home game in franchise history and my only memory of that day was watching the fans tear down the goalposts.
I've been through some terrible, awful performances at The Old Sombrero so watching a losing team was nothing new for me. There was a stark difference between then and this past season. Those Buc teams in the 80's and early 90's - they had no chance. They lacked the talent of their NFC Central brethren. Everyone on the field and in the stands knew it. You couldn't blame them for quitting near the end of the season. They had little hope anyway.
Yet many of those teams fought hard to the bitter end. There would be the occasional upset of the Packers or the Bears that sent their fans home grumbling and the orange clad Buc fans feeling like they had just won the Super Bowl (if we only knew).
Those were the days when 8-8 seemed like a pipe dream. No, friends, what changed me was watching a football team that I knew was infinitely better than any of those poor squads back in the day just sandbag their coaches and put on the most embarrassing and putrid performance in Buccaneer history.
I had enough. It wasn't worth the expense anymore. Rumor has it I wasn't alone. It didn't help that I had purchased a 10 game pack with the Tampa Bay Lightning and they treated me like royalty. Every game was an event and even if the team performed poorly, I felt like I got my money's worth. It was time to take my two grand and put it toward an ownership and franchise that cared for their fans.
I received my renewal for the Bucs season tickets and tossed it in the trash. I was done. I'd still love the team, would root for them, maybe go to a game or two - but those penny pinching Glazers weren't getting something for nothing anymore.
Then something dramatically wonderful happened. The Glazers saw the frustration and more importantly, the apathy of the fan base. They resolved to make dramatic improvements for the season ticket holders during perhaps one of the most important off-seasons in Tampa Bay history.
The first sign of the change was when they fired everyone associated with the debacle of last season with the exception of General Manager Mark Dominik. What happened last season could never happen again and the Glazers made that message clear.
The coaching search was long and tedious. It felt like it would never end. Then again, considering Jon Gruden was replaced in a matter of hours by their defensive backs coach, I appreciated that the ownership was leaving no stone unturned.
When Chip Kelly decided to turn down the job - it felt like the Gruden coaching search all over again. Who would we surrender two first round picks, two second picks and a boatload of money to this time?
Greg Schiano, the polar opposite of Kelly and Raheem Morris would get the call. I knew of Schiano as an occasional watcher of USF Football games. I remember a bunch of the beat downs Schiano-led teams delivered to the Bulls hopes. Yet I really didn't know what the man stood for or his philosophy.
After his introductory press conference, I felt much more confident about the Bucs under Schiano than I ever did about the Bucs under "Rah". This guy oozed Head Coach. Yet, it wasn't enough.
How could Schiano compete if the Glazers still shopped for free agents at Wal-Mart?
The first day of Free Agency opened and the Bucs shocked the league. After going "youngry" since purchasing Manchester United in 2005, no one expected Tampa Bay to be players in free agency. The news came quick. Huge contract to the top weapon on the market, WR Vincent Jackson. Another huge contract for All Pro Guard Carl Nicks. A big contract to corner Eric Wright. Yet another for a solid free agent defensive lineman in Amobi Okoye.
In just a month, the Bucs - who in my estimation weren't nearly as bad as their 4-12 record indicated - got substantially better. The day after the Glazers opened their wallets, I opened mine.
A solid draft was fun and infused the team with even more talent. Schiano's "Toes on the line" OTA's were such a dramatic departure from what Rah had it seemed like he was getting this team in line to be competitive.
It was going to do things the right way.
And so was ownership.
As season pass members, fans received:
- A dedicated member associate assigned to your account.
- Discounted Tickets for season and individual games (if you wanted to purchase more)
- In the upper level, 50% off youth tickets
- 15% off food, beverages and in stadium merchandise
- 15% off parking
- 15% off online purchases at Buccaneers.com
- Exclusive member events with special access to the GM, coaches and players
- Flexible monthly payment options
- Complimentary tour of One Buc Palace
- Dedicated Season Pass member services windows at the Box office
- Player meet and greets
- WiFi in the stadium
- A Members Only Smart Phone app (Coming soon)
Season Pass members got a taste of the special treatment last night at the Fan Fest Night Practice. They were allowed in a half hour before the general public and had an exclusive area in Buccaneer Cove where they were provided free beer, food and soda. In addition, only season pass holders had access for autographs and pictures with Josh Freeman, Carl Nicks and Ronde Barber - who were stationed on the pirate ship.
It's a dramatic change from years past, when it felt like there were hardly any benefits to owning season tickets.
The practice itself showed a distinct change. After a two hour autograph session with every player and coach on the roster stationed throughout the stadium, the team hit the field. Before the practice began the players ran to all corners of the stands and shook hands, signed more autographs and greeted fans.
The team practiced hard and there were none of the hokey "passing contests" and other on-field gimmicks in night practices past. The Bucs players were there to work.
In addition, the Bucs announced in a letter to season pass members that as an enhancement of the in-game experience, they hired the same company who produced the last 18 Super Bowls to handle in-game highlights and produce all of the team's home games.
It had to be an impressive show for the surprising 30,000 strong that showed up to see the new look Bucs. You could sense the excitement in the stands. The cynical nature that many fans developed over the past few seasons was finally replaced by hope and belief.
I don't know if this team is going to win five games or ten, but one thing is certain, there's been a dramatic shift in the organization to make the fan experience better, especially for their season pass members.
It was a change desperately needed, something the organization should take pride in and continue to improve upon.