TAMPA — The days of tens of thousands of fans placing their name on a waiting list for the opportunity to buy Buccaneers season tickets are long gone.
Nowadays, it’s not atypical for a third of the seats at a Buccaneers home game to be filled with Buccaneers fans, another third to be filled with fans of their opponent and the final third to be left unoccupied.
The steady deterioration of the Buccaneers fan base, or the unwillingness of fans to buy tickets and actually attend games, has all but robbed the Buccaneers of what was once a very noticeable home-field advantage.
And coach Dirk Koetter has taken notice.
Seemingly bent on altering the trend, Koetter made the disappearance of the Buccaneers fan base a talking point in virtually every press conference he held this week.
He even addressed the issue during his weekly radio show, urging fans holding tickets to give them away as Christmas gifts instead of selling them to fans of their opponent.
In each instance, Koetter acknowledged the issue is as much a result of the Buccaneers’ failure to win consistently as anything else. Tampa is just 3-15 at home since the start of the 2014 season, after all.
It’s clear, though, that Koetter is disturbed by the lack of support his team gets from its fans at home.
“Go take a picture of any of (the games we’ve played recently at Raymond James Stadium),’’ Koetter said. “Denver, Chicago, Giants. Take a picture and see what you get. Now, we’ve got to take care of the stuff on the field, but some places are harder to play (at) than others.’’
Koetter came from one of those places. He spent three years working as an offensive coordinator in Atlanta, where the Georgia Dome has become known as one of the loudest venues in the NFL.
Now, some of the noise generated there has been artificial. The Falcons, in fact, were docked $350,000 and a 2016 fifth-round draft pick for pumping fake crowd noise through their sound system during the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
Even without the fake noise, though, the Georgia Dome has become a difficult place for rival teams to work in, particularly when they have the ball. Raymond James Stadium – not so much.
“We’d love to have (our opposing offense) have trouble communicating,’’ said Mike Smith, the current Buccaneers defensive coordinator who was the Falcons head coach when Koetter was in Atlanta. “That would be a big advantage for us.
“But we have to do our job as a defense (to help create that noise) and get the (opposing offense) off the field and get the ball back over to our offense so we can let them go.”
“I know crowd noise is important. But I also think that when you’re focused on the game you really don’t hear the noise all that much. You don’t feel the noise. But the other side does.’’
That’s Koetter’s point. The problem is that instead of the Buccaneers opponents having to deal with crowd noise at Buccaneers home games, it’s sometimes the Buccaneers who actually have to deal with it.
Certainly, that was the case at the end of their last home game. After a near 90-minute lightning delay, the Buccaneers returned to the field and played the last six minutes in front of a crowd of mostly Broncos fans.
“When you have to do everything silent cadence, everything hand signals, when you can’t hear yourself think, it’s rough,’’ Koetter said. “(It’s even rougher) if you’ve got to go to silent cadence in your own stadium.
“But again, we as a team have to do our part (to) make RayJay a place that opposing teams don’t want to play in. But we need the crowd’s help on that, too.’’