Before the conspiracy theories go too far on how the Tampa Bay Buccaneers playing in London means they’re moving there, stop.
The Bucs may be visiting London for the second time in two years when they play the Chicago Bears in Wembley Stadium this season. But the Bucs and the NFL aren’t looking for a permanent rearrangement.
Yes, Tampa Bay ownership had some say in getting this game. And, yes, that same ownership also owns the Manchester United soccer team. But this is about a lot of other things beyond relocating a team that plays in one of the league’s finest stadiums (Raymond James Stadium, which is being paid for by taxpayers) and one of the league’s finest practice facilities (One Buccaneer Place, which was paid for by ownership).
The Bucs aren’t looking to get out of Tampa Bay and the NFL probably wouldn’t let them. The league already threw its weight around to keep the Bucs in town in the 1990s. The league likes the market and likes having Tampa Bay as a Super Bowl venue (the area is probably the front-runner for the 2015 Super Bowl, which is expected to be announced in the fall). There are at least several markets the league would consider abandoning for London or Los Angeles before the Bucs would even get a shot to escape.
This is much more about marketing. This is a team that’s marketing itself hard and there have been and continue to be talks about appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks’’ this summer. This is also a team that struggled to sell tickets last year, when all home games were blacked out on local television.
The Bucs have lowered season-ticket prices and sales have improved in a region where the economy still is struggling. But, at least at the moment, the Bucs are probably looking at some more blackouts next season. Imagine if Chicago came to Raymond James Stadium for this game? I’m not talking just the Bears. I’m talking about all the Tampa Bay transplants from Illinois and all those who would make the trip down for a weekend when it’s winter in Chicago and summer in Tampa Bay.
That’s how it used to be every year back before the Bucs became good and the new stadium was built. Back in the days when the Bucs played in the NFC Central, it was the norm for crowds to favor Chicago, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota. If you want more recent evidence, just look back to last season's home game with Pittsburgh.
By taking their act to London, the Bucs are saving themselves and their fans from the strong possibility of a hostile takeover by Chicago fans. They’re also marketing their team on an international stage, which might help solve the attendance problem for the long term.
Oh, and guess what else? The Bucs just lowered season-ticket prices again. Take the cost of the Chicago game off the cost of season tickets and you’ve got another discount. Oh, one other thing -- if you don't have season tickets and live in the Tampa Bay area, you'll be able to watch the game on television.