The NFL's Tampa Bay Problem

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 25:  A yellow penalty flag at Cowboys Stadium on August 25, 2012 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronal
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 25: A yellow penalty flag at Cowboys Stadium on August 25, 2012 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

NFL opening game? Check.

Division rival? Check.

Local TV blackout? Check.

On Sunday, the NFL blacked out the opening game of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the third consecutive season. Overall, the Bucs have had 14 of their last 16 games blacked out locally.

Sunday's blackout happened despite the Bucs attempts to draw fans back by lowering ticket prices and despite the team's decision to lower their blackout threshold to 85 percent of capacity.

It seems the Bucs are learning the hard way what happens when you withhold your product from your customers: nobody cares anymore.

Fans and sports bar owners are sounding off in the local media against the blackouts. One Tampa bar owner confessed, "The blackouts are killing us." Hell, even the Bucs organization can't be happy with what is transpiring down there.

One frustrated Bucs fan summed up the whole situation perfectly: "How are they supposed to build a fan base if you can't even watch them?"

Earlier this year, Ricky in Tampa was one of over 4,000 fans who wrote into the FCC asking the agency to end its blackout rule. Ricky wrote, in part: "My tax dollars paid for this stadium. This is bizarre that I can't watch my own team. I have boycotted the NFL for two years now. I threw away 15 team shirts. Stop the insanity."

Edward in Tampa shared Ricky's sentiments about the generous subsidies the public grants NFL owners:

Here we are subsidizing billionaires with stadium, concessions, parking and tax considerations while at the same time they are making billions in TV and radio deals along with countless tens of millions more in licensing fees and the greed expressed in blackouts almost defies the imagination.

And as with blackouts in Buffalo, San Diego and Cincinnati, fans who are nowhere near Tampa Bay are being punished. Daniel in Merritt Island, Florida also wrote into the FCC:

I live over a 100 miles directly East of Tampa, that's two hours away. Yet, because my viewing area falls under the Orlando cable service, I find myself caught within the blackout rule. This also means I can't go into a local bar with DirecTV Sunday Ticket to watch the game, they are also blacked out. Even better, I can't travel one hour north or one hour south of my location to watch the game in a Sports Bar, I just think that's ridiculous.

Putting aside the fact that these blackouts are unethical because taxpayers subsidized Raymond James Stadium, many of these comments filed at the FCC are direct evidence that blackouts are counterproductive and actually cost the team fans.

Indeed, the Tampa Bay Bucs are proof that blackouts alienate more loyal fans than create new fans. This should come as no surprise to the NFL, as nine top sports economists collaborated earlier this year to write, that "blackouts have no significant effect on ticket sales in the NFL."

(The only time blackouts actually work, according to the economists? Occasionally they force a few extra fans in bad weather to come out -- something that's not a problem in Tampa Bay.)

So how could a league with such a knack for marketing itself not see that its blackout policy is actually doing more harm than good?