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Visit Florida, Pitbull pull plug on tourism partnership

Pitbull performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa during the 2016 Bad Man Tour.  [Luis Santana | Times]

Pitbull performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa during the 2016 Bad Man Tour. [Luis Santana | Times]

Pitbull may still #LoveFL. But he's no longer getting paid to say so.

The multiplatinum pop and hip-hop star is no longer under contract as a paid tourism ambassador for Visit Florida, president and CEO Will Seccombe said Thursday. The contract ended June 30 and was not renewed.

But that doesn't mean Visit Florida wouldn't do it again.

"For the value of the promotion, it's extraordinary," Seccombe said of the partnership. "Pitbull's been an incredible spokesman for the state of Florida, to a huge and very important audience for Florida tourism. He's been outstanding, and the results have been huge for the Florida tourism industry."

The contract, signed on Aug. 3, 2015, and announced a month later, received attention and criticism around the state, as almost no details of the deal were made public — including how much the Miami-born Pitbull was getting paid, and what, exactly, he was getting paid to do. Visit Florida says the Pitbull deal contained proprietary business information, which is exempt from public records requests.

Florida man: From the 305 to worldwide, Pitbull is Florida's paid ambassador

For months, Pitbull plugged Visit Florida's #LoveFL hashtag a few dozen times on Twitter and Instagram; filmed a tourism-heavy, #LoveFL-branded video for his 2014 single Sexy Beaches in Miami Beach; and hosted a live, nationally televised New Year's Eve concert in Miami's Bayfront Park. On July 30, he performed at Tampa's Amalie Arena in a high-energy show laden with plugs for the Sunshine State.

"Nobody parties like folks from Florida," Pitbull said then.

Both sides have already discussed how to "leverage the relationship" going forward, Seccombe said. Pitbull has used the #VisitFL hashtag as recently as Aug. 15. Even freed from his contract, Seccombe said he has "no doubt" Pitbull will keep representing his home state in a way that resonates with the younger travelers Visit Florida is trying to reach.

"We're talking about an audience that's critical to the future of Florida tourism," Seccombe said. "This audience is one that does not necessarily embrace or trust advertising. The power of the endorsement of an influential celebrity is exponentially more impactful than a tourism ad."

He pointed to the Sexy Beaches video, which has 5.3 million YouTube views since dropping July 13, and according to Seccombe around 11 million across all platforms.

"That's definitely a success," he said.

This year, Visit Florida received $76 million in state funding — as well as an audit ordered by Gov. Rick Scott to ensure those funds were being properly dispersed. While the Department of Economic Opportunity found no wrongdoing with regard to the Pitbull contract, it did recommend Visit Florida take steps "to help address the tension between operating in the sunshine and needing to restrict select information," in part to ensure "that all public funds are expended properly."

Seccombe said Visit Florida was planning to analyze and make public the results of the partnership, even if the contract itself remains private. He said Visit Florida expected to recoup about $5 in media value for every $1 spent on the deal, and that the Sexy Beaches video would continue to reap benefits long after the contract expired.

"That video is still going to live on YouTube and Vevo and wherever else it is, promoting Florida and continuing to gather views," he said. "It overdelivered, from our perspective."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

Visit Florida, Pitbull pull plug on tourism partnership 08/25/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 25, 2016 5:41pm]
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