What's the Problem?

The Way I See It...

By Andrew Mason
Content Editor

July 26, 1997

TAMPA, Fla. - Recently, the AFL mailing list discussion turned to the state of the league and each of its teams. In particular, some talk centered on the Storm's attendance, which has not risen above the once easily-attainable mark of 15,000 all year. The following is the text of my letter to the mailing list.

To pinpoint the Storm's attendance decline on any one or two factors is incorrect. There's a lot at work here, some the organization's fault, some uncontrollable.

1. The Bucs - Yes, they ARE a factor. For starters, their season ticket base has increased 10,000 in the offseason. Secondly, the Bucs scheduled their Family FunFest, a ticket and meet-the-fans rally for the team, on the same night as the Storm-Milwaukee game (May 30). The result? The lowest crowd in Storm history, an announced 9,888. Meanwhile, over 11,000 fans were at Houlihan's Stadium.

2. The Devil Rays - Not too much of a factor in terms of game night competition. However, the renovations to Tropicana Field (nee ThunderDome) forced the Storm out, probably earlier than they wanted to.

3. University of South Florida - They're starting up a football program this fall, beginning on the I-AA level with the intention of moving up to I-A by 2001. The program has received unprecedented community support for a start-up sport; they've sold 15,000 season tickets already according to a report I heard on the radio today. That total is No. 1 in the nation for I-AA and outdistances more than a few I-A programs. Season tickets for USF are at around $140 for seven games, which is comparable to most seats at the Storm games. And it's important to remember how huge college football is in this part of the country---two programs average over 70,000 per game in this state and receive saturating media coverage. Many here would much rather go to a college football game than any other.

4. The Ownership Change - Yeah, that seems like old news, doesn't it? I mean, Woody Kern bought the team from Bob Gries nearly three years ago. But the Storm's attendance has never reached the levels that it did under Gries in the last three years. In four years of Gries' ownership, the Storm drew 20,000 or more fans 12 times in 25 home dates. In three years under Kern, there have been but two 20,000-plus crowds in 25 home dates. (And to disagree with a point made earlier today, about how the Tampa Bay fans are staying away because the team isn't winning---the 7-5 Storm of 1994 outdrew the 10-2 Storm of 1995 by approximately 4,000 people. It's marketing and professionalism that draws people---look at how Milwaukee got the fans in during their first two seasons.)

Where Gries was hands on, Kern is hands off. He lives in Fort Worth, Texas and only flies in for the occasional game. To his credit, he spends money on players and coaches. He WANTS to win. But in the off the field promotions and marketing, the Storm has suffered. The promotions are similar---this year, the Storm even brought in the Dynamite Lady, who made an infamous and messy 1992 appearance against Orlando. However, what was once creative has grown tiresome. Frankly, some of this year's promotions are not hitting the mark. For instance, in the afore-mentioned Milwaukee game, they had the local chapter of the "Flying Elvises" club descend from the rafters before kickoff. The money for the Elvises could have been better spent on taking out an ad in the St. Petersburg Times.

Which brings me to another thing that Joe Kauffman mentioned today---the Storm has completely ignored Pinellas County in this year's marketing. It's not much different from the St. Pete days when the Storm did the same thing to Hillsborough County and the Tampa side of the bay. But there's no excuse for this. No team can consistently make it without marketing BOTH sides of the bay. Advertise in both papers. The Storm sticks with only the Tampa Tribune this year because they have a marketing deal with the Trib. But the Trib reaches fewer readers in the Bay Area overall and has almost no readership in Pinellas County. Quite a few on that side of the bay think the Storm has fallen off the face of the earth---not long ago, I had an old friend from Pinellas ask me if the Storm were still playing!

The Storm is spending the money, but it's going into silly things and not into advertising and promotion. The money must be spent---after all, you've got to spend money to make money---but it should be spent in different ways. Promote the team. Promote football. Go for professionalism in every aspect, from the music and fireworks before the game to the game program. If something fairly insignificant like your program is shy on information and is generally useless, people might feel the same way about the team. In fighting the Big Four, plus the corporate-driven WNBA, the AFL has to do things BETTER than others to get people in the house. They have to promote better. We know how great our sport is---now the league needs minds like some of those on the list to help promote this sport. It's a tough task, but it CAN be done, with a lot of work, a little hustle, and good planning. The Storm can turn it around; they wouldn't be the first team to succeed with a baseball team in town should they draw more in 1998. But they have to market the entire Bay Area. This shouldn't be just Tampa's team or just St. Pete's team. This needs to be TAMPA BAY'S team.

Note that I don't mention the Mutiny of Major League Soccer. That's because they really aren't going after the same kinds of fans that the Storm is, and because their attendance is below the Storm's this year, too. The Mutiny draws less in spite of far more advertising and promotion on TV and radio. This proves its not always QUANTITY of marketing, but QUALITY, which is what the league and its teams have to strive for.

And that's the way I see it.

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