CLEARWATER — Even as the recent Super Bowl recedes into history, Clearwater Beach is already saying, "Wait 'til next time."
Some Clearwater leaders and businesspeople are annoyed that one of the NFL's official Super Bowl maps of the Tampa Bay area, which was distributed to out-of-town visitors, didn't include the Pinellas beaches, major tourism destinations.
Instead, the visitors' map focused more on Tampa, cutting off western Pinellas County along Belcher Road and 66th Street. Clearwater officials are also miffed that no official Super Bowl events were held in their city.
"If they were coming from Tampa over here, they had a better chance of getting to Sun City than they did to Clearwater Beach," said Clearwater Vice Mayor George Cretekos. "So if we're going to try to get the Super Bowl back here in a couple of years, I think we need to do a better job of making sure all of Pinellas County is included."
In the days leading up to the big game, Cretekos served as a volunteer Super Bowl ambassador in the lobby of a beach hotel. He greeted visitors — mostly Pittsburgh Steelers fans — and was surprised to find that they had been given an NFL-produced map that didn't include the beach.
So he gave them booklets produced by the Tampa Bay Super Bowl Host Committee, which featured a map of Clearwater. He also handed out guides from Pinellas tourism officials.
However, the NFL says visitors were given information on how to get to the beach.
Super Bowl officials say that when out-of-town visitors arrived at airports and hotels, they were typically given one or two sources of information: a 60-page "official event guide" from the Host Committee, or an "official map" from the NFL that focused mostly on driving directions from local airports to Raymond James Stadium.
It's that second publication, the NFL's fold-out map, that has been drawing the ire of beach businesses.
"I've been fielding a lot of complaints about it," said Sheila Cole, executive director of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce.
Clearwater and the other Pinellas beaches are included on the NFL's large-scale regional map of the entire Tampa Bay area, which reaches all the way north to Hernando County and east toward Orlando. (Although Clearwater isn't well marked on this map.)
However, a close-up map of the immediate Tampa-St. Petersburg area cuts off western Pinellas, ignoring everything in Clearwater west of Belcher Road.
NFL spokeswoman Joanna Hunter notes that the beaches were on the regional map. Also, she said the more comprehensive 60-page guide was distributed to more visitors than the driving map was. "Clearwater Beach was included on most of the maps made available to visitors," she said.
Reid Sigmon, executive director of the local Super Bowl Host Committee, added, "The 120,000 visitors' guides that we distributed listed attractions and restaurants in both counties, including a full map of Clearwater."
Hunter also noted that Clearwater Beach hotels and restaurants were featured in an online guide to Tampa Bay on the Web site SuperBowl.com.
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On a related subject, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard is irritated by the absence of Super Bowl events in his city. He wants answers from the Pinellas tourism officials who were working with Super Bowl planners.
Hibbard noted that a "Taste of the NFL" event was held at Tropicana Field, and a "Celebrity Beach Bowl" flag football game was held at St. Petersburg's Al Lang Field, with sand trucked in.
"I mean, a beach day at a baseball stadium when we've got perfectly good beaches here?" the mayor said. "I don't see anything up here, and we generate the most bed tax in the county."
According to Hibbard, Tampa Bay Buccaneers co-chairman Bryan Glazer told him that more Clearwater Beach resorts would help the bay area attract more Super Bowls in the future. But the mayor feels Clearwater isn't getting its share of the bounty.
D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, said the Pinellas tourism bureau took steps to attract Super Bowl visitors to Pinellas County attractions, including the beaches. It set up its own Super Bowl Web site, put up billboards near Raymond James Stadium, and targeted certain keywords in Google searches.
As far as where particular events were held, Minich said that was ultimately up to the NFL and the events' planners, who chose from a selection of venues. Regarding the beach football game, he said, "It was down to two venues, Al Lang or Sand Key Park, and in the end they felt Al Lang was easier because it had all the seating built in."
Minich said several of the larger Clearwater Beach resorts that had contracts with the NFL ended up doing fairly well during the lead-up to the game.
Still, when Tampa Bay gets its next Super Bowl, Clearwater officials are determined to get more of the action.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4160.