They don't pack the economic punch of the Super Bowl. But two World Series games in St. Petersburg this week — and maybe two more next week — will provide Pinellas hotels a welcome boost during the typically slow fall season.
"It's a nice gift,'' said Joanna Patterson-Rizkallah of the Hilton Resort Clearwater Beach, which sold the Philadelphia Phillies 95 rooms to put up employees today and Wednesday. "Empty rooms don't pay our bills.''
No one knows how many out-of-town fans will follow the Phillies to the Tampa Bay area. But the club and Major League Baseball will fill more than 900 hotel rooms combined in Pinellas for each day the teams play, said D.T, Minich, the county's tourism director.
"You have the broadcasters, executives and their staffs,'' said John Timberlake, director of Florida operations for the Phillies, whose spring training home is in Clearwater. "You have the owners, general managers and (team) managers from every team in baseball.''
The Renaissance Vinoy Resort in St. Petersburg and the Don CeSar Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach, reserved blocks of rooms in advance for Major League Baseball. But the location of the World Series was uncertain until the Rays beat the Red Sox late Sunday.
Tampa's Super Bowl in February will be a much bigger event, with 100,000 visitors spread out from St. Pete Beach to Orlando. Still, the series shares some logistical challenges, with days instead of months to smooth out details, said Russ Bond, the Vinoy's general manager. "The World Series is like the Super Bowl without all the time to plan,'' said Bond, whose hotel has commitments to the Rays and Major League Baseball through the regular season. The Vinoy typically hosts teams playing the Rays. Bond wouldn't say if the Phillies will be there this week.
Some St. Petersburg hotels had to move groups to other lodging Monday to make room for Major League Baseball, Minich said.
Most visitors will stay in downtown or St. Pete Beach. But the Phillies will put up employees of the club, family members and sponsors in 300 rooms in Clearwater Beach — and lease seven buses to move them around the area, said Timberlake. It's a matter of loyalty to a community that has hosted the team's spring training since 1947, he says.
The area should receive a tourism boost next year. World Series teams usually sell out their spring training games, said Timberlake, just like the Phillies did the season after losing to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1993. "To be on this world stage, nothing else can do what it does for a team,'' he said.
Local officials hope some of the spotlight shines on the Tampa Bay area, too. Tampa's tourism agency is pitching Fox Television to run footage of the city's scenery during game breaks. Minich has advertising consultants designing a full-page spread for USA Today to celebrate a Rays win and promote Pinellas.
The message: Best baseball, best beaches.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.