5 NFL Towns That Are an Easy Ticket in 2011

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- The NFL lockout is over, but home game television blackouts are looming. Who needs two?

The NFL is only in its preseason and already home games have been blacked out in Oakland, Calif., and Tampa, Fla. That likely comes as little surprise to fans of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders, who saw only one of the two teams' combined 16 home games last year. It would have been 0-for-16 if the Raiders hadn't been in the running for the AFC West lead when they faced the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 9.

Despite the five months of dealing and drama that went on during the lockout, the NFL and its players didn't touch the league's television blackout policy that takes home games off the air if the game doesn't sell out 72 hours before kickoff. That means anyone unfortunate to live in an area where the local Fox, ABC, CBS or NBC affiliates broadcast within a 75-mile radius of the home stadium will get stuck with some other city's game and either have to wait for a rebroadcast after the game finishes or be stuck paying $335 this season to watch only the game's scoring drives and transitional plays on the RedZone channel of DirecTV's Sunday Ticket package.

Of course, amid rising inflation, falling consumer confidence and 9.1% unemployment, fans could always just do what the NFL and its team owners want them to do and buy a ticket to a game. Brian Frederick, executive director of Washington-based fan advocacy group the Sports Fans Coalition, based in Washington, D.C., says forcing fans to buy tickets and taking away their televised home games only extorts more money out of taxpayers who have helped fund stadiums for 31 of the league's 32 teams. Ten stadiums have been publicly financed and at least 19 are 75% publicly financed, at a cost of $6.5 billion in tax dollars.

Tack on the more than $76 average cost of an NFL ticket or the $420 cost of taking a family of four to a game, according to Team Marketing Report, and it's understandable that a blackout-weary fan might want to beg his or her deity of choice for tickets that don't require an additional premium on resale sites such as StubHub. Fortunately for the ticket-buying football faithful, we have identified five NFL cities where either blackouts, bad football or a combination has made ticket-buying a breeze on game day:

Tampa

Home game blackouts in 2010: Eight

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers failed to sell out last night's preseason home opener against the perennial powerhouse New England Patriots, the ensuing television blackout wasn't cruel, but consistent.

Bucs fans haven't seen a home game on television since 2009 and, quite frankly, don't seem to be in any rush to sell out Raymond James Stadium and put the games back on the air. The city poured $168.5 million in public funds into the stadium's construction before it opened in 1998 with help from a sales tax increase. Never mind that the man who called for the stadium to be built, owner Malcolm Glazer, is worth nearly $3 billion and would spend millions more of his own money to buy English Premier League soccer team Manchester United just a few years later. Even in troubled economic times, Bucs fans have to pay.

Unfortunately, the Tampa/St. Petersburg area is being hit harder than much of the rest of the country by recent economic woes. The unemployment rate in the region sits at 11.1%, or 2 percentage points higher than the rest of the country. Real estate prices have plummeted, cash is much harder to come by as some families are underwater with mortgage payments and a stadium that seats 65,000 has a season ticket base of only 40,000. Even though ticket prices dropped 3% last year, that $72 average price is still too rich for some fans' blood; it's driven fans to take bus trips to bars and restaurants outside the blackout area and prompted local businesses to try streaming live game feeds onto their screens.

The shame of it is that the Bucs are actually fielding a team worth watching. They went from a 3-13 record in 2009 to 10-6 and just missing the playoffs last year thanks to maturing quarterback Josh Freeman and young, effective offensive weapons such as wide receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount. Sadly, the only time most Bucs fans will see them this year is when they hit the road.

Oakland

Home game blackouts in 2010: Seven

You know what they call a team that blacks out eight home games in Oakland? Rank amateurs.

The Raiders have blacked out 83 of their past 127 home games and ran double-digit blackout streaks at the same time, mostly because you can't pay Oakland fans to watch the garbage the Raiders organization had dumped into the Oakland Coliseum's Black Hole for nearly a decade. Last year's 8-8 campaign was the team's first non-losing season since 2002, when they lost to the Bucs in Super Bowl XXVII.

It was also the first time the team had won more than five games within that span, which gave Raiders fans enough hope to actually sell out Week 9's game against the Chiefs for the team's first sellout since the 2009 home opener. The Raiders would win that game in overtime, but went 3-4 the rest of the way to finish behind the San Diego Chargers and the AFC West Champion Chiefs despite beating them again in the season finale.

It doesn't help that the Raiders are one of the teams being targeted by developers looking to build a stadium in Los Angeles. Even the best-case scenario has the Raiders leaving the Coliseum for a stadium somewhere outside Oakland in the Bay Area or potentially sharing a new stadium with the San Francisco 49ers. With fans facing those possibilities, a $350 price tag for a family outing at the stadium, an inconsistent product on the field and 10% unemployment in the Bay Area, is it really any wonder the team just barely drew 32,000 for a game against the Houston Texans in Week 4? It isn't for Raiders fans, whose decided lack of attendance for the team's preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals already put the team's first home game blackout of 2011 on the books.

Cincinnati

Home game blackouts in 2010: Four

Head coach Marvin Lewis, quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco ushered the Bengals to the playoffs in 2009 and helped the Bengals sell out games for much of their tenure.

That all came crashing down last season as the team snapped a 57-game sellout streak, went 4-12 and sat home for much of the playoffs. This season, Ochocinco's in New England; Palmer has asked to be traded, threatened to retire when the Bengals didn't comply and hasn't shown up for training camp; and Lewis is left with the mess.

The future looks understandably grim for the team in stripes, and its fans don't seem amused. The Bengals failed to sell out their final four home games last season and had them blacked out on television in Cincinnati. Rookie quarterback Andrew Dalton is still wearing Texas Christian University gear under his jersey, perennial emergency starter Bruce Gradkowski hasn't even had time to taste the chili after arriving late last month and the only holdover on the roster -- Jordan Palmer -- is the less-talented brother of the franchise quarterback the team's squabbling with now.

Not surprisingly, many good single-game seats are still available.

San Diego

Home game blackouts in 2010: Three

Much like the Buccaneers, the San Diego Chargers aren't a bad team. Their 9-7 record last year wasn't great by their standards, but was still just a game off the pace for a playoff berth.

Nor has the team given fans a whole lot to be glum about. The Chargers have made the playoffs in five of the past seven seasons and sold out 48 straight home games heading into last year. Were fans just angry that the team let cornerback Antonio Cromartie and running back LaDanian Tomlinson fly off to play with the Jets?

Probably not. They were likely more angry they were being charged dynasty prices for a rebuilding team. At $81, the Chargers had the eighth-highest average ticket price in the NFL and were well above the league average of $76.47. On top of that, team owner and billionaire Alex Spanos is asking San Diego to foot the bill to replace the team's more than 40-year-old home at Qualcomm Stadium after the NFL said the facility was inadequate for hosting a Super Bowl. While a site in downtown San Diego is still being considered, it's more likely the team moves to other proposed sites in San Diego County, including Chula Vista or Oceanside, with Chula Vista seeking to change the team's name to the Chula Vista Chargers if they pony up the public funds. Another possibility, albeit remote, is that the team will find itself in Los Angeles if San Diego plans fall through and the L.A. Developers wooing it make the right pitch. The Chargers narrowly avoided a blackout in their preseason opener, but the team can expect a lot more empty seats and lost TV time if it doesn't start making some decisions soon.

Buffalo, N.Y.

Home game blackouts in 2010: Three

The Buffalo Bills are a prime example of how an NFL franchise shouldn't treat a loyal fan base.

The people of Buffalo love the Bills enough to attend games during seasons when Buffalo is giving Rochester and Syracuse a run for their money in the Golden Snowball annual snowfall race. They loves the Bills enough to put up with Jim Carrey's rubberface routine and the thin veil of Ray Finkle mocking the Bills' 1990 "wide right" loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXV in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective or Vincent Gallo's pathetic attempt to kill a clone of Super Bowl-losing kicker Scott Norwood in Buffalo '66.

For this devotion, Bills fans get the NFL telling them to take it walking when they ask for a community ownership agreement akin to that the Packers have with Green Bay. They get to watch their team truck out to Toronto to play a "home" game at Rogers Stadium every year since 2008 with no assurances from team management that the franchise won't move across the border. They get a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2000, hasn't had a winning season since 2004 and had a 26-game sellout streak snapped last season when the team showed few signs of life during a 4-12 campaign.

How easy were Bills tickets to come by last year? Ask Russell Salvatore, owner of Buffalo-based Russell's Steak and Chops, who bought 7,000 tickets to the Bills' home finale against the Patriots last season. Attendance was down well before then, however, after the team raised ticket prices 15% between 2009 and last year and watched 11,000 season ticket holders walk away as a result.

Salvatore wouldn't have had to part with proceeds from nearly six months' worth of anniversary dinners if fans had any indication that A) The Bills are going to improve anytime soon or B) Owner Ralph C. Wilson will make provisions for the team to stay in Buffalo if the 92-year-old ever relinquishes control of the team. Buffalo's unemployment (below the national average at 7.7%), growing tech sector, improving waterfront district and stable cost of living are helping reverse a decades-long exodus, and Buffalo sports fans have rallied around the Sabres after new ownership kept them in the city and the teams' former owners refused a higher bid that would have moved the team.

The Bills organization hasn't shown nearly as much commitment to its fans, which is why no amount of steak will save the Bills from more blackouts if the team's play and future plans don't improve. Bills fans who remember four straight Super Bowl defeats don't need the team breaking their hearts from the boardroom as well.

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