Bucs to limit general public’s access to training camp
TAMPA — Free football will be harder to come by for Bucs fans this August.
The team on Tuesday announced changes for the upcoming training camp — after 13 practices were open to the general public last summer, this year will have just six dates for fans who aren't season-ticket members.
Some of each open practice will be in the team's new indoor facility that opened last fall, but the move has upset some fans who enjoyed extended visits to training camp as a chance to see their favorite players up close each August.
"I can understand the decision, but the timing of enacting it when they aren't winning is my issue with it," wrote Kody Hilburn, 22, of Tampa on Twitter. "I've gone to training camps every year since 2001 when I was just 5 … it's a family tradition that they're pinching away from us … limiting the (still loyal) fans that come out in the Florida heat for some practices isn't what I'd call good PR. It's like unnecessarily burning a bridge."
The new facility can handle 3,500 people, and in all, 15 practices will be open to fans, but five are to select "private groups" of not more than a few hundred. The team is making training-camp access a perk and incentive for more fans to buy season tickets — those fans will be able to attend a "mock game" scrimmage Aug. 2, and there's two more practices set aside for fans in the "stadium club" and in luxury suites.
"We are excited about the unprecedented level of access that our fans will enjoy as they get even closer to the action this year at training camp," Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said on the team's official site. "The new, air-conditioned indoor practice facility will provide a comfortable viewing experience and create an unmatched atmosphere for those practices open to the general public … We are always focused on providing memorable experiences for our fans and this year's training camp offerings will be one of the most entertaining to date."
For fans sticking with the Bucs after a disappointing 5-11 last year, it's been on offseason with other moves. The Bucs raised their prices on some season tickets for new purchases, requiring returning fans to renew early to avoid the higher prices. The team will open the season without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who will be facing a three-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
"I've had season tickets for 19 years and anything 'special' we get, we like," Bucs fan Dan Neary, 42, of Land O'Lakes wrote on Twitter. "They go out of their way to make it affordable and worth the investment. Yeah, it's tough sometimes to watch, but being a fan isn't always easy."
Fans will be asked to go online and register for free tickets, in part so the team can better anticipate the crowd size each day. The team won't have covered bleachers for fans on the side of practice fields, though the $20 million indoor practice facility built last summer will be used for at least the final 45 minutes of all practices open to the general public. Fans will be invited to set up chairs around the perimeter of the practice fields and watch while the team is using the outdoor fields.
The first practice open to the public will be on Sunday, July 29, with the July 28 practice open to current and retired military and their families as a "Salute to Service" day. Rookies are set to report to training camp on July 23 and veterans on July 25, with the first three practices not in full pads as required by the league.
The Bucs will have joint practices with the Titans in Tennessee in the days leading up to their preseason game in August, which lessens the number of practices at One Buc Place. Practices are again expected to be held in early morning, with a general window of 8:45 a.m. to 10:50 a.m. with two practices starting at 9:30.