Buccaneers offering select season-ticket holders free seats vs. Panthers

TAMPA, Fla. -- Coming off one of their worst-attended games of the past decade, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be giving away free tickets to this week's game against the Carolina Panthers, team officials told ESPN.

Season-ticket holders received notices that they are eligible to receive two free tickets Sunday and have until Thursday to opt in. The team said there is a limited number of seats, so not all season-ticket holders received the offer. It is being done on a first-come, first-served basis.

Paid attendance for the Bucs' 27-9 win over the San Francisco 49ers last week was 50,436. The actual attendance recorded by the Tampa Sports Authority was 40,682. Raymond James Stadium seats nearly 66,000. Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said the gesture was done not in response to the poor turnout but as a gift for the holidays.

"It's just another example of us trying to provide added value to our season pass members. We've done this in the past, and it's been very well-received," said Ford, adding that the team is "ranked No. 1 in overall customer satisfaction [through the NFL-commissioned "Voice of the Fan" survey] four of the past six years because we aren't afraid of trying new ways of improving our fan experience."

The news was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

The Bucs (4-7) are averaging 55,181 fans per home game in 2018 -- 30th in the league. The team averaged 59,952 fans in 2017, when the Bucs went 5-11, and 60,624 in 2016, when they went 9-7.

The Bucs have also had issues with a large presence of opposing teams' fans in their stadium, as seen against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football. In recent years, the team began to revoke season-ticket holders' memberships if those fans continued to sell their tickets.

Prior to the Glazer family's purchasing the Buccaneers in 1995, hiring both Tony Dungy and later Jon Gruden, free tickets were often left on car windshields outside the old Tampa Stadium -- and many of them went untouched.