The QB Blast: Blackout Problem Won’t Go AwayJanuary 2nd, 2011
By JEFF CARLSON
Former Bucs quarterback Jeff Carlson (1990 & 1991) writes The QB Blast column here at JoeBucsFan.com. Joe is ecstatic to have him firing away. Carlson is often seen as a color analyst on Bright House Sports Network, and he trains quarterbacks of all ages locally via his company, America’s Best Quarterback.
In the week following the Bucs’ devastating home loss to the Detroit Lions and leading up to their explosive win last Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, stories in the Tribune and Times (including the front page) surrounding the Buccaneers were more about the lack of attendance at Raymond James Stadium and a season-long blackout on local television than the team’s playoff scenarios.
Blaming the economy is the most popular answer to the problem, but I believe it is more complex than that and includes marketing, public relations, perceived value and a changing marketplace. It is the same problem that most businesses have to deal with to sell their products over time.
I grew up in Los Angeles with the Rams and later the Raiders as well. The nation’s No. 2 television market has been without a pro football franchise since the early 1990s.
Fans showed up late and left early and didn’t show up at all if the teams weren’t really, really good. The NFL has wanted to reclaim that massive market for years. (I really thought the Glazers were going to take the Buccaneers to L.A. before the stadium here in Tampa was agreed on.) And there are a few businessmen that have been trying to build a new stadium and bring football back to L.A. for many years, but there just isn’t a clamoring by fans to make it happen.
In Los Angeles there are plenty of other entertainment distractions and fans found they could live without pro football and, as it turns out, there is plenty of NFL football on regular television, as we have been forced to discover here as well. And if your football appetite isn’t quenched with that, you can buy the “NFL Ticket” if you really want more.
We in blacked-out markets can buy NFL rewind and watch the games in their entirety only a few hours after the real deal. So in a multi-entertainment spot like the Tampa Bay area, there is a limit to what the market will bear, especially with great options like USF football, the Rays and the Lightning vying for the same family entertainment dollar, not to mention Disney and Busch Gardens.
The Lakers win championships as often as any pro team, and fans still won’t fill their arena if they aren’t vying for the top spot each year. The “bandwagon” fan isn’t unique to Tampa, Florida. Every city is basically the same in that regard — everybody loves a winner –although some smaller towns with limited entertainment options (Green Bay comes to mind) may still sell out their stadium regardless of how the team is doing on the field.
NFL Might Have To Enhance Fan Experience
Why haven’t the Bucs filled up the stadium once all year while enjoying a winning season from the start? The economy is important, but the “Redbox effect” is redefining the market (Redbox is the little DVD vending machine sitting at your local Walmart or 7-Eleven). Blockbuster already was struggling to fight off competition from mail-away movie companies like Netflix when Redbox started renting movies for a buck! A buck?
The perceived value had been defined by Blockbuster for a long time at nearly $5 for a multiday rental and they had driven almost every “mom and pop” rental store out of the market. Who would ever spend $5 for a movie rental ever again? Not many,as Blockbuster quickly found out.
The home video market had been redefined and Blockbuster has now followed the Redbox business model. With the growth of the Internet and cable/satellite TV, the NFL has been morphing its market over time, just as “Hollywood” did when VHS home videos came out and as the music industry has with iTunes.
Going to the “Drive-In movies” was a way of life for me and millions of other Americans in the 1970s but has almost disappeared as part of Americana. As VHS movies started coming out in the late 1970’s, “Hollywood” started worrying that the end of the walk-in movie was close at hand as well. Why would people pay the big bucks for tickets, popcorn and cokes that go along with the movie theatre experience, when they could buy or rent the movie and enjoy themselves at home?
The movie industry has had to reinvent itself over the last 30 years (remember double features?) as technology of television and surround sound has made the “home theater” experience better than going out. Movie makers have relied on star power to open movies and salaries for top stars skyrocketed up to $25 million per movie for some, much like the salaries for top performing professional athletes (Michael Jordan $30+ Million).
People will always want somewhere to go to get out of the house, go on dates, etc., but they can’t or won’t pay the steep ticket price to go for average movies. You can trust Redbox with a $1 for average movies. To get me to the theater, the lure must be pretty good. The current trend is 3-D. You can watch it in 2-D for one price and 3-D for a few bucks more.
The Buccaneers and other mid-market teams are at a similar crossroads now and I believe the NFL as a whole will deal with this moving forward. The Cowboys, Giants and Jets probably won’t feel it as much, but even Jerry Jones will have to come up with interesting ways to fill all those seats and luxury boxes in his sparkly new house if his team continues to disappoint.
Discouraging Families, Corporations
There will always be fans for football and the biggest markets and top performing teams will continue to sell tickets, but with better and better televisions the live product is going to have to be bigger and better than it has been in the past to get me and others off the couch (perfect weather, nobody standing up in front) and pony up $500+ for a three-hour entertainment experience for the family.
I have been to plenty of football games in my life and don’t care that much about being there in person anymore. My motivation for going out in the elements is simple and singular, to make my kids happy.
My kids asked me if we could go to the Falcons game a couple weeks back, so I called for tickets. When I was told that the cheapest ticket started at $75 for the upper level and $105 for the lower, unfortunately I had to tell my boys that we wouldn’t be going to see the Bucs. I don’t know how many of those $25 kid’s tickets ($35 adults) that have been promoted all year are available or where they are in the stadium, but it makes me think of the airlines that advertise $49 plane tickets.
I know some people and/or companies spend $300 for a single “Club” ticket and God bless them. But like many in Tampa Bay, I have to make choices about my family’s entertainment expenses. For me, a $500 investment for tickets in the corner of the stadium isn’t going to happen. With my playing history and broadcasting responsibilities, I have gotten into games for free for a long time, so I may not be a typical customer, but at that price, the game itself isn’t going to get my family to the stadium. I simply need more value for my money and it seems many others do as well.
The Tampa Bay Storm bring their players back on the field after the games to sign autographs. The Rays and Lightning have made post-game concerts a value-added program to increase attendance. USF has lower ticket prices and a good atmosphere for “JoeFootballFan” to get his “live” football fix. I don’t know if a Rick Springfield or REO Speedwagon concert will get me there either, but it might (actually neither of those artists would do it, but adding more value outside of the game is the concept).
Over 50,000 people decided to take the financial plunge for the divisional match-up of potential playoff teams, but only about 40,000 were interested enough in each of the final two home games. The local economy isn’t going to change dramatically soon, so there probably isn’t going to be a great clamoring in 2011 for new season ticket holders or luxury box owners even with the surprisingly good season the team has put together.
Tampa is like the little town that could. We are not a big market, but we try to play with the big boys, and even though we have endured much ridicule over the years with all of our sports teams at different times, we have faired pretty well.
Baseball is a different animal without a salary cap. The Rays are outspent 3-to-1 every year (at least) by the Yankees and Red Sox and need ticket revenue to survive. Every team in the NFL shares in their television revenue, guaranteeing each club a certain amount. In 2010 the NFL didn’t have a salary cap or basement, meaning teams could spend as much or as little as they wanted. The Cowboys spent more than anyone and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers spent less.
According to a Sporting News article from November 22, the Bucs spent $30 million less than what the salary cap minimum would have been. Meaning they would have been forced to spend about $110 million if there was a cap. I’m sure they have plenty of answers to explain why they are spending so little in comparison to other teams, but news earlier this year that the Bucs invested the least amount of money in their team (in the entire NFL) over the last five years doesn’t make individual fans or corporations get too excited to invest either.
The blackouts are also a problem for the Bucs because guys like Jon Kitna, David Garrard, Chad Henne, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Mark Sanchez have spent as much or more time on our TV screen this season than the Bucs’ budding superstar QB Josh Freeman, and that doesn’t help sell more merchandise and other things that increase the overall perceived value of the franchise when those rankings come out each year.
With time off from work and school, my family was looking for something to do and my kids like hockey too. We watch portions of almost every Rays game and Lightning game throughout their respective seasons because they are on TV and their players become household names. I know the Lightning have 41 games to sell and the Rays have 81, but as I said, it is just a three-hour entertainment expense for me, so there is a small difference between a pro hockey game or pro football game — my family is getting the same value.
The difference is my wallet is much heavier when I go home from a hockey game.
So, this New Year’s Day, my family watched the Gators play at Raymond James Stadium all afternoon, and for $120 my family of four will be enjoying the Tampa Bay Lightning and the New York Rangers all night. And for that $120 we also got the added value of four hot dogs, four beers (sodas) and four hockey pucks to take home. My family will be happy, I have $380 left in my back pocket and I’m home in plenty of time to catch the Bucs and Saints in Hi-Def.