The Changing Tampa Bay Sports Market

The Way I See It...

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

June 10, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Recently, the Storm endured a flap with the new soccer team in Tampa Bay, the Mutiny, when a Storm radio ad promoting their June 1 game with the San Jose SaberCats told listeners that "if you want to watch guys in shorts, go to the beach."

The commercial was in good fun---even members of the Mutiny organization got a kick out of it. But the outwardly congenial reaction of Mutiny folk underscores a serious competition for fan dollars between the new kid on the block and the old summer standby in Tampa Bay.

The Mutiny and the Storm have gone head-to-head on three occasions during the last month, all during the last three Storm games. So far, the Storm has won the attendance war two out of three times, most notably on Saturday, when 14,117 paid to see the Storm defeat the Florida Bobcats but only 7,388 showed up at Tampa Stadium.

Not only that, but the crowd was the Storm's lowest of the season. Meanwhile, the Mutiny have three sub-10,000 crowds in 7 dates so far.

Competition may be good for the consumer, but it can be brutal for the overall sports community, especially when the combatants are in leagues that aren't as traditionally solid as the "Big Four" of pro sports on this continent. The race for dollars, though, is just another manifestation of the extreme growth in sporting volume that Tampa Bay and all of Central Florida have experienced in recent years.

Back in the summer of 1991, the Storm was it. We'd just lost our local bid for an expansion team in baseball, and a 3-13 Buccaneer season---bad even by Buc standards---was months away. As the season progressed and attendance soared, it was as if Tampa Bay was trying to prove itself to baseball owners as a good sports town.

A wink under five years later, the Bay Area has its baseball team, is struggling to keep the Bucs, has seen the Lightning develop from thin air into a playoff team, and has seen the death of the old Rowdies soccer club, the birth and death of Team Tennis in the Bay Area, the birth and death of roller hockey, the birth and struggling life of the Tampa Bay Terror of the NPSL indoor soccer circuit and...well, you get the idea. There's been a lot of changes, and now, there's a lot more to offer than just seven years ago, when the Bucs were all we had.

The Lightning is asking for more money for season tickets. Ditto for the Devil Rays and the Bucs. The Mutiny and the Storm duke it out to themselves for the summer for now, but what happens when the Rays debut in 1998?

The first impact will be felt on October 1. That's when the renovations of the ThunderDome to make it baseball-ready begin, throwing the Storm out of the building and into new offices. By next summer, assuming all goes as expected, the Storm will take the field in the Ice Palace, a cozier arena in downtown Tampa that should make Storm crowds feel bigger.

The Dome has the unique ability to make 15,000 seem small. Not in the Ice Palace. 16-17,000 should make a sellout. Tickets should become hotter commodities.

The Storm's the old kid on the block now. Should the Bucs leave, the team that once took the field in zebra stripes will be the old hands of the market. The fan base is fairly consistent this year----three crowds have been near 14,000, with the Orlando game drawing over 16,000. Walkup sales on game days have declined, and advance sales have increased steadily as a percentage of overall tickets distributed every year.

How ironic. The franchise that started off as a rebellious entity has now become establishment in this market. Not too shabby. Let's just hope that we can keep this support up for years to come, because Tampa Bay and the AFL have been a super pair.

And that's the way I see it.

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