TAMPA — In a private room at the 2001 Odyssey strip club, dancers with names like Candy, Bella and Ferrari sit on a high-backed velvet bench and video chat with online customers from across the country. For a price, they'll disrobe and move into an adjacent room to dance.
Web customers pay a monthly membership fee for these virtual interactions. And some of them, the club says, end up coming to Tampa for a trip inside the spaceship-topped nude club on N Dale Mabry Highway where they can visit the strippers in person.
By August — just in time for the Republican National Convention — operators of Club Cam Systems plan to roll out similar ventures at two other Tampa adult clubs. Their goal: drum up thousands of dollars online while giving some of the estimated 50,000 GOP convention visitors a taste of the adult entertainment awaiting them when they arrive.
"For the RNC, people need places to go. We're trying to create the awareness for people who come to Tampa that Tampa has a lot of things to do," said Russ Bruno, an owner of Club Cam Systems.
It's a true "hub and spoke" model of social media marketing that's being synchronized just in time for arriving delegates, politicians, lobbyists and other tourists. Like other businesses pitching for convention visitors, the clubs are updating their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to drive traffic to their websites, which drives foot traffic to the clubs.
"I think Tampa may be breaking new ground with this," said Glen Gilmore, a consultant and digital marketing professor at Rutgers University. "It's a dramatic shift in marketing, and I guess what's happening in Tampa just reinforces the fact that traditional marketing is yielding to new media and new marketing."
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The Odyssey's journey into live streaming started about a decade ago but didn't go far because of $110,000-a-month broadband costs and dial-up customers who wondered why "the girl hasn't moved in 25 minutes," said Don Kleinhans, a club co-owner.
"Technology has now caught up," he said.
In the 5,113-square-foot club, cameras are perched above the dressing room's entrance watching the women apply makeup or change out of lingerie. Another sits above the main stage not far from neon signs hailing the "Make It Rain Machine."
Controlled by an ATM-like kiosk, the Make It Rain Machine allows customers online and in the club to drop as much as $2,000 in dollar bills from 2001's ceiling onto dancers. Rolling thunder accompanies the lucrative storm while the DJ announces the rainmaker's name and dedication. Performers can be tipped over the Web.
The cameras are tightly focused on the stage and patrons are never shown.
Tucked away behind a frosted glass door is the "Studio," where strippers video chat offstage with customers who pay a $19.95 monthly membership fee to access the site. For another $4 a minute, they can ask for a personal striptease. Many of the club's 300 dancers have profiles that inform viewers when their favorite entertainer is online.
Some strippers believe this "virtual club" is the answer for politicians who come to town and are scared of being seen in the club.
The service also draws clients into the Odyssey in person. That's what club operators are hoping happens during the RNC. "People coming down for the RNC can log in online and see what's going on at the club so they can bring parties to the club during the convention," Bruno said.
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Club Cam Systems, developed at 2001 Odyssey with its club owners staking a claim, is now being sold worldwide. The Mons Venus, the Odyssey's longtime rival across the street, hopes to have its Club Cam system operating by next month, said Toni Derby, director of operations. It will not include video chat services because the 3,100-square-foot club doesn't have enough room for a Web studio.
At the 2001, the club's staff stays tethered to laptops to monitor, chat and keep the Web operation running. In an instant, they can access the club's Facebook and Twitter accounts, and post updates and tweets to thousands of followers. It's a direct-marketing tool club operators will aim at conventiongoers using political keywords and hashtags to draw them in.
When they leave, Kleinhans hopes, visitors will go home with beach memories, a souvenir or two and a membership in the virtual club to "stay in touch" with some of the people they've met.
Justin George can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3368.