Bucs seeing spark at box office

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- We’ll find out in the fall if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ signings of free agents Vincent Jackson, Carl Nicks and Eric Wright will help the team on the field. But that trio already has made an impact at the box office.

That’s significant for a team that’s struggled to sell tickets in recent years. Buccaneers co-chairman Joel Glazer said Tuesday at the NFL owners meeting the team has seen an increase in ticket sales since the free-agency splash.

“Definitely,’’ Glazer said. “First of all, our season-ticket holders from last year, we’ve seen the enthusiasm through the renewals. In new sales, we’ve had a great response. You just sense it in the community. There’s an excitement and a connection going on and a re-engagement that maybe hasn’t been there the last couple of years. We’re going to build on that in a lot of different areas to get our fans more engaged.’’

That should be nothing but good news for a team that has sold out only two home games in the past two seasons. Glazer wouldn’t go into specifics about the team’s season-ticket base and he wasn’t ready to say local television blackouts of home games will permanently end just yet.

“That’s our goal,’’ Glazer said. “That’s extremely important to us, but we have work to do there. We’re rolling up our sleeves. For the fourth year in a row, we’ve lowered our ticket prices. We’ve created ticket pricing for all fans and it’s very important for us to be accessible to all fans.’’

But committing more than $140 million to the three free-agents wasn’t a move designed to be a publicity stunt to create traffic at the box office. It’s part of a much larger plan.

“People question why this didn’t happen two or three years ago,’’ Glazer said. “Well, when we settled on this plan a few years ago, the plan was draft, develop and, at the appropriate time, add veterans. To bring in veterans early on to us just puts you on the wrong path. This was the appropriate time. Not only was it the appropriate time, you had some unique players out there, the kind of players that we could add that could add something to our football team and in the locker room. I think the complement was fantastic, the timing was as we always expected. We’re excited. It’s energized our fans. It’s energized our organization.’’

We’ve talked about the Bucs’ plan here many times in recent years. There’s a misconception by some out there that ownership simply was cheap for a few years and made a huge shift in organizational philosophy this offseason. That’s not at all true. The Glazers and general manager Mark Dominik simply are following a plan that has a proven history of success in the modern NFL.

That’s to build through the draft, keep your key players and add appropriate free agents at the right time. In the NFC South alone, I’ve seen similar plans work in Atlanta and Carolina, to varying degrees and at different times (the Saints have had success with a plan that involves the draft, but also relies a good deal on free agency). I’ve seen similar plans work elsewhere in the league – think New York Giants and Green Bay Packers, who have won recent Super Bowl teams.

Then, I think about the teams that have spent tons in free agency in recent years. Dallas and Washington haven’t accomplished all that much in recent years. Philadelphia’s “Dream Team’’ turned into a bit of a nightmare last year.

I think the Bucs are on the right path. These things don’t happen overnight. But if the Bucs stay on the path they’re on, they’ll get back to a point where Raymond James Stadium isn’t filled with empty seats on Sundays.