TAMPA — The recession has hit Tampa Bay's Super Bowl party plans like a Dick Butkus tackle to the knees.
Sports Illustrated has called off its staple Big Game bash. The Brooks & Dunn Inaugural Golf Classic, a celebrity party and golf tournament hosted by Bucs Warrick Dunn and Derrick Brooks, was canceled for lack of sponsors. Even the venerable skin mag Playboy pulled out of its annual party, leaving Tampa with a Bunny-free bowl.
"The Super Bowl is certainly not immune to the effects of the recent economic downturn," said Amanda Holt, a spokeswoman for Tampa Bay's Super Bowl host committee. The committee has revised its fundraising goal downward from $8-million to $7-million, Holt said. She's also hearing from event planners struggling to line up sponsors.
"The interest is there," said Keisha Pickett, who is having trouble raising sponsor money for two parties. "There's just a fear of letting go of the money."
Pickett, 28, chief executive of Pickett Public Relations Group in Tampa, said this is her first foray into Super Bowl parties. She's throwing two events targeting black Super Bowl fans. The Super Soul Sanctuary, held on Friday night before the game at Feather Sound Country Club in Clearwater, costs $60 per person and features an eclectic mix of soul performers.
On Saturday night, actor Terri J. Vaughn will host Pickett's chocolate-themed party that includes first screening of her documentary Angels Can't Help But Laugh about the lives of 25 black Hollywood actors. The party, also at Feather Sound, will feature chocolate drinks, snacks and a chocolate fountain.
Pickett has tried to get chocolate companies like Godiva, Hershey and Ghirardelli to sponsor the event but has had little luck. Instead, she's putting up her own money. She plans to make the two parties annual Super Bowl events, and thinks she'll have better luck with sponsors once the economy improves.
"People love the idea, they love the event, but even your larger chocolatiers are saying we just don't know if we have the budget," Pickett said.
Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL, sounded enviably unperturbed. The impact will be primarily felt at the non-NFL "ancillary" events that "draft" off the Super Bowl, he said.
Nearly 100-million people watched the Super Bowl last year, far more than watched the World Series or the opening ceremonies for last year's Olympics in Beijing, McCarthy said. Women watching the Super Bowl outnumber the entire audience for the Academy Awards.
"The Super Bowl provides an unparalleled stage to reach a massive audience," McCarthy said.
The NFL plans to continue its Friday night pregame gala known as the Commissioner's Party, a private event for 5,000 people at the Tampa Convention Center. NFL Experience, billed as an "interactive fan festival," will throw open its doors for the 18th straight year, courtesy of Bank of America. A Saturday night party will be held in Orlando for sponsors like FedEx, Samsung, State Farm, Motorola, Gatorade and even troubled automaker General Motors. There will be an NFL-sponsored tailgate party, a golf tournament and a bowling tournament. Any trimming of a food or wine budget will go largely unnoticed by attendees, McCarthy predicted.
Asjylyn Loder can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 225-3117.