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Ford Amphitheatre gets a new name from 1-800-ASK-GARY

Roz, spokeswoman for the referral service, David Harb, venue manager, and Marc Abend, a Live Nation executive, unveil the new logo for the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre.

DAWN LEWIS | Special to the Times

Roz, spokeswoman for the referral service, David Harb, venue manager, and Marc Abend, a Live Nation executive, unveil the new logo for the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre.

TAMPA — You may be asking yourself, "Where should I go to hear live music in Tampa?"

Don't be scared and confused!

Promoters hope you come to the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre, the Florida State Fairgrounds concert venue newly named for the familiar doctor-and-lawyer referral service.

"Is that a joke?" asked Keith Ulrey, who works at Tampa's Vinyl Fever music store.

Nope.

The venue known as Ford Amphitheatre since it opened in 2004 unveiled the new moniker at a news conference Thursday.

General manager David Harb said officials wanted to partner with a local, recognizable company.

1-800-ASK-GARY has offices in Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Myers and Gainesville. It's known for commercials featuring a woman named Roz, chatting from the front seat of her car.

Roz showed up at the conference Thursday wearing a black dress and glittery eye shadow and offering her signature line when asked about the venue's new name.

"Don't be scared and confused!" said Roz, who declined to give her last name.

Harb wouldn't say how much 1-800-ASK-GARY paid for the three-year deal, but members of the Florida State Fair Authority said its 20 percent cut was about $75,000 a year. Do the math, and that's $375,000 a year — about half of what Ford paid, according to St. Petersburg Times archives.

The man behind the 1-800 number is Gary Kompothecras, a 50-year-old millionaire chiropractor from Sarasota who has donated tens of thousands of dollars to statewide Republican campaigns and at least $1 million to Charlie Crist.

Kompothecras, who has two autistic children, also lobbies for legislation to change requirements for childhood vaccinations, which some believe cause autism.

According to Sarasota County records, Kompothecras owns or co-owns five properties, one for which he paid $2.3 million.

Kompothecras' Physicians Group runs more than 40 accident treatment offices in the state. He got the idea for 1-800-ASK-GARY from accident victims who didn't know where to turn, said Paul Wilson, the referral service's advertising director.

The Times tried asking Gary, but he didn't respond to a reporter's phone calls. Wilson said Kompothecras was on the way back from a trip to Italy.

Kompothecras "flipped out" at the chance to sponsor the venue, Wilson said. He apparently has Wilson to thank.

Wilson, who also does promotional work for the Florida State Fair, heard Ford was unlikely to renew its sponsor contract. Wilson had a single thought: "Ask Gary."

At a Florida State Fair Authority board meeting Thursday, members chuckled at the new logo.

The laughs quieted when chairman Sandy MacKinnon reminded members that naming rights generate money for the venue, which is weathering a tough fiscal year after this winter's cold snap and storms crippled attendance at the 2009 Florida State Fair.

County Commissioner Kevin White, who represents the district where the venue sits and is on the authority's board of directors, said the name change surprised him. "There could have been a much more appropriate name chosen for the amphitheater, one that's more reflective of the community or a major corporate sponsor within our community," White said.

Harb said he's confident concertgoers will react favorably.

"It's an untraditional name, and that's okay," Harb said. "The truth be told, I'm not going to concern myself with it. I'm here to provide great entertainment."

Kevin Renshler, a University of South Florida business professor, said while the deal seemed smart from a marketing perspective, getting the name to stick could be tough.

"If they're really going to ingrain in people that this isn't really an April Fool's joke, they're really going to have to plaster that all over the place," Renshler said.

Opinions among local disc jockeys were split.

Todd "MJ" Schnitt found the name cumbersome.

"Well at least if I slip and fall and break a hip at the amphitheater, I'll know who to call," said Schnitt, who has programs on 93.3 FM and 970 AM.

Bubba the Love Sponge Clem from 107.3 FM, who calls Kompothecras a close friend, thinks Tampa will adjust. "It's a good call," he said.

Evan Surrency, 18, wasn't so sure.

"If I was someone like John Mayer, I wouldn't want to say I was performing at the 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre," said Surrency, who was shopping at the FYE music store in the Westfield Brandon mall Thursday.

Ulrey, the Vinyl Fever employee, said he doesn't like when any venue takes on the name of a corporate sponsor — the Staples Center, the St. Pete Times Forum — but this one especially offends him.

"Ask Gary? Come on," Ulrey said. "That's just silly."

Times staff writers Justin George and Bill Varian and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

The 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheatre
On a scale of 1 to 5, how do you like the new name?
1. I hate it
2. I think it's pretty lame
3. It's okay
4. I like it
5. I love it

Ford Amphitheatre gets a new name from 1-800-ASK-GARY 06/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 11, 2010 12:04pm]

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