Local football fans left in the dark the past few seasons may now see Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games light up their televisions.
The National Football League adopted a new guideline for its television blackout policy, allowing the option for home teams that reach 85 percent of stadium attendance capacity to lift the home blackout and show games on local television. The previous rule required games be declared a sellout 72 hours prior to kickoff to be shown on local television unless a special exemption was granted by the league.
For fans in the Tampa Bay area, this could mean more opportunities to see Buccaneers' home games from a seat in their living room instead of a seat inside Raymond James Stadium.
In recent years, about the only way to catch a game played at Raymond James was to buy a ticket, drive outside the home market to catch the game on television or tap into an illegal Internet feed.
That may change starting next season after the new policy was recently adopted by the NFL. By comparison, only two of the seven games played at 65,890-capacity Raymond James Stadium last season were televised on local television: Oct. 3 vs. Indianapolis and the home finale Dec. 17 against Dallas, both nationally televised night games.
If the new 85 percent policy was in effect last season, five of the seven games would have been televised in the Tampa market, with only the home opener on Sept. 11 against Detroit and Sept. 25 against Atlanta under limit.
The prospect has some local football fans anticipating the opportunity to watch more games from the comfort of home.
"The new rule goes to show how much some teams are struggling to draw larger turnouts," said Buccaneers fan David Blanchard. "I believe this combined with the new players that were drafted/signed in free agency will definitely help the Bucs get on TV more regularly."
It's not a guarantee, however, that the new policy will immediately result in games being shown. According to The Wall Street Journal, each team will be allowed to set its own benchmarks for lifting the blackout, as long as it is no lower than 85 percent of stadium capacity. Whatever benchmark individual teams establish, the home teams would share the revenue from the ticket sales above that threshold.
"If a team chooses to do so, it may set its capacity number needed for a blackout to be lifted at 85 percent of overall capacity," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told NFL.com. "More revenue than usual will be shared with the visiting clubs for tickets sold above that base number."
There was no immediate word from the Buccaneers on how they plan to utilize the new blackout rule, if at all. "We'll defer to the league for the time being," team spokesman Jonathan Grella said.
Tampa Bay ranked among the lowest teams in attendance last season, finishing at 85.9 percent capacity for the season. That put it 27th out of the 32 teams in the league with an average attendance of 56,614. Only Cincinnati and Miami had a lower average attendance last season.
The old blackout rules were set in place to boost attendance but were established before the billion-dollar contracts for television rights that support the league today.