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Doughnutgate: Two Rays fans issue a crumb of criticism

For months, that niche of all-Americans who happen to love both the Tampa Bay Rays and Dunkin' Donuts have lived in what might be described as a sugary, doughy bliss.

For those not in the know, the Rays and Dunkin' Donuts partnered last year for the "Rays Win, You Win" promotion. Every time the baseball team won, fans could pick up a free doughnut.

Life was good.

People like Ricky and Paula Rodriguez occasionally stopped by their neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts in South Tampa. Not that they couldn't afford to buy their own doughnuts (Ricky, 49, trades stocks from his home), but "it was really kind of a cool thing," Paula says. So he'd get the blueberry; she'd get Bavarian cream.

Then the team started winning — a lot.

And getting the doughnuts got harder, at least at the Gandy Boulevard store, the Rodriguezes say.

Early this month, the couple say they were told they couldn't get their doughnuts until the day after a win and, even then, they'd have to arrive before 11:30 a.m. More recently, they were denied the blueberry — the promotion now included glazed only, they were told. And, they say, the store wouldn't honor coupons given out at Rays games for free coffees and such.

"It just sort of irritated us," Paula said. "The Rays were winning and now they were taking (the doughnuts) away ... And I'm sorry, that's false advertising."

Now — and they want to stress this to all the readers out there — the Rodriguezes aren't irate over this. As Ricky says, he's not one to down a business that's giving out free stuff, even if it is your basic glazed, early-in-the-morning, day-after-the-game doughnut. He still stops by the Gandy store for coffee. He has been drinking Dunkin' brew for years and thinks it's the best.

The thing that gets Paula, though, is that her sister, who lives way up in Carrollwood, could get whatever free doughnut she wants at her neighborhood Dunkin' Donuts after watching the game on TV, while Ricky and Paula, avid Rays fans who often trek to the stadium, had to abide by all these restrictions at the Gandy store, just a bridge away from the Trop.

You can't change a promotion midstream, she says. It's a "demotivator." Besides, all the stores should be consistent. This is why she called the chain's corporate headquarters and also e-mailed the Times.

I reached Toby Srebnik, a Dunkin' Donuts spokesman.

The promotion will continue at least through the end of this season, he explained. The way it's set up, you get one doughnut per person, per visit. Fans are supposed to wait until the day after a winning game to get their free doughnuts. And, Srebnik said, "it's supposed to be any doughnut."

So, if what Srebnik says is true, Ricky should have gotten his blueberry cake doughnut that day.

"We'll certainly pass this on to our team and see that it's resolved," Srebnik told me in a serious tone. He insisted I pass along his contact info to the Rodriguezes so he could send them some free stuff. (When I delivered that message, Paula declined the freebies, saying they're not in this for the coupons.)

After talking to Srebnik and leaving messages at the Gandy store, I got a call back from Christine Bridges, director of finance for Velocity Brands LLC, which owns eight Dunkin' Donut stores in the area. She said the company had a glazed-only restriction for all its stores for one Rays game but quickly lifted it after a barrage of complaints.

Contrary to the Rodriguezes' story, Bridges said Velocity's stores honor corporate coupons and that there has never been any 11:30 a.m. time limit. She doubted that the Gandy store had made such a claim but said she'd speak with the manager to verify.

Eighty Dunkin' Donuts in eight counties, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando, participate in the promotion, Srebnik said.

He conceded that no one knew they'd have to give out this many doughnuts. "The success of the Rays has exceeded everybody's expectations," Srebnik said. But the stores benefit by getting more exposure, he said.

As of mid July, the Rays had won 55 games and the stores had given out 138,875 doughnuts, he said. Since then, there have been many more wins and many more doughnuts. Last year, the team won just 66 games.

The issue has in no way soured the Rodriguezes on the hometown team, said Paula, who suffered withdrawal last week when the Rays were in Chicago.

Some things can't even be cured by a cruller.

Doughnutgate: Two Rays fans issue a crumb of criticism 08/28/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 2:27pm]
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