Roger Goodell has a message for Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans.
He feels your pain.
The NFL commissioner is well aware that Tampa has emerged as the blackout capital of the league in the past two seasons. Ten consecutive regular-season home games had been blacked on local television until Oct. 3, when the Bucs sold out their Monday night matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.
"Tampa's a great market,'' Goodell told The Tampa Tribune this week at the NFL's fall meetings in Houston. "I know how passionate the fans are down there. I also know the team is doing everything it can to get people into the stadium."
Goodell noted the effect a down economy is having on the region.
'We have to recognize what fans are going through right now," he said. "These are challenging times, and Tampa has been hit particularly hard."
The Bucs meet the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. The league's deadline to sell out and avoid a blackout is 4:15 p.m. today, 72 hours before kickoff.
Goodell is hoping for an economic recovery and packed houses again at Raymond James Stadium, where every Bucs game had been sold out from 1998 until the start of last season.
"We recognize there are tremendous NFL fans down there,'' Goodell said. "I don't sense there has been an erosion of the fan base in Tampa. The important thing to look at is what's happening in the economy.''