Thursday, August 22, 2013

Tampa market has more than enough positives to relive Bandits’ halcyon days

The Tampa-St. Petersburg, Florida market would provide any new spring outdoor alternative professional football league with the right combination of market size, facilities and spring football history.

Tampa has had just one previous foray into spring outdoor alternative pro football, and it was a successful one. The United States Football League’s Tampa Bay Bandits, led by Head Coach Steve Spurrier, was that league’s most stable franchise. They not only were better on the field than their fall National Football League counterparts, the Buccaneers (35-19 from 1983-85 for the Bandits, compared to 10-38 for the Bucs), they ended up with three of the top seven single-season attendance marks in the USFL’s brief run.

In those days, the Bandits and Buccaneers played in Tampa Stadium. Now, the Bucs play at Raymond James Stadium, which opened in 1998. Raymond James Stadium has a capacity of nearly 66,000, and also is the home of the South Florida Bulls and the annual Outback Bowl.

Interestingly, over the last five seasons, the Buccaneers have fallen near the bottom of the NFL in average percentage of capacity filled per home game (83.9 percent, 31st in 2012; 86.2 percent, 28th in 2011; 75.1 percent, 31st in 2010; 96.0 percent, 21st in 2009 and 98.3 percent, 15th in 2008).

In St. Petersburg is Tropicana Field, the home of the Major League Baseball Tampa Bay Rays. Tropicana Field (34,078 capacity) played host to one United Football League game in 2009, and also is the home to such football staples as the Under Armour All-America Game, the East-West Shrine Game and the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.

Tampa-St. Pete is the 14th-largest United States television market, according to Nielsen.

BOTTOM LINE – Would the Tampa-St. Pete area like the return of “BanditBall?” Can’t imagine why it wouldn’t. And while the Buccaneers aren’t struggling to the point the mid-1980s Bucs did, the timing could be right for a Tampa return to spring football, especially with the lack of interest in the nearby Rays.

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