Friday, January 19, 2018
Business

A Rain maker has tall hopes for ABA basketball team

There are second careers, and then there's Dennis Casazza's new job. At the age of 73, he oversees a fledgling basketball team despite having no experience in basketball, playing or otherwise. Originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., Casazza is the vice president and general manager of the Tampa Bay Rain, an expansion American Basketball Association franchise that began playing this month. • Casazza, a former engineer, salesman, marketer and telecommunications company owner, moved to Tampa to retire in 2002. That's where he met Steve Davis, who owned a company that digitized paper records. Casazza worked for him as a marketing consultant until about three years ago, when Davis sold the company. • Davis went on to buy and create the Tampa Bay Rain franchise, and he went back to his old friend Casazza to run and market the operation. Times staff writer Justin George caught up with Casazza to ask him why he thinks the Rain will bring a torrent of fans to Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Are you a basketball fan and who's your favorite player of all time?

I'm probably more of a football fan. I like sports, though. When my kids were growing up, I helped coach their sports teams. I'm probably an average sports fan. The only thing I was good at was swimming. I never played basketball, but I played baseball. The only basketball I played was games with my son in the driveway. I guess Michael Jordan would be my favorite player. I see enough of his underwear ads. And I like Shaquille O'Neal. He was a part-time cop in the offseason, and I appreciated that because my father was a retired detective in New York City for 35 years. Law enforcement has been very close to my heart, and Shaq doing that is very noble.

Why doesn't Tampa have an NBA team?

It's really strange to me that you have every possible sport you can think of here but basketball. I believe that basketball is going to be a viable sport here. The ABA allows us to bring it to the forefront, and God willing and the creek don't rise, maybe in five or 10 years it'll help bring an NBA team here.

What tells you Tampa needs a basketball team when the consistently blacked-out Tampa Bay Buccaneers can't sell out their stadium and the Rays rank at the bottom of Major League Baseball when it comes to ticket sales?

First of all, professional basketball is new to the area and our marketability is going to be based on the different type of entertainment we can provide. We're not charging an enormous amount for a ticket. For the price of a senior-admission movie ticket, you can watch a basketball game. Also, you have to remember the old ABA of the 1960s and 1970s started the three-point shot, slam dunk and a lot of exciting things the NBA later adopted — and it may do so again. I recognize the economy is bad and disposable income is down. But if I had to choose between a $20 to $30 sports ticket or a $6 to $10 ticket for a basketball game, I'd probably check it out.

Where do you think the Rain can fit within the Tampa Bay sports hierarchy?

I would think that basketball from a sporting standpoint is one of the top three national sports. Football, baseball and basketball are American traditions. I don't know if we're going to fit in at No. 3, but that's where we'd like to fit in if we can entertain the crowd. I'm not a big fan of Arena football, though some people tell me it's exciting and there are a lot of good players. I'm not much of a soccer fan, so I don't follow it. Hockey is a favorite of mine, though.

Will you have any locally themed game nights, mascots or events?

Each game has a theme. The first regular season game, which is Oct. 26, will be breast cancer awareness night with proceeds going toward cancer charities. When we get close to Halloween, we'll have a Halloween night where fans will be urged to dress up. We'll have a heroes night honoring first responders. We will have a Gasparilla night, where we're working with a group of acting pirates to entertain during halftime. We have a kids night, we have a social media night, and we have a funny night called "head to heels," where all the girls dress up from head to heels and bring their boyfriends along. We'll have a contest for the nicest or craziest dressed. The first three preseason games will be called "mascot mania," where we want the crowd to help come up with a mascot. We're not going to pick a mascot. We want the crowd to pick a mascot for us.

Sunday Conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.

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