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Bucs, Jensen reach out to fans as training camp approaches

New center tells his story at Bucs luncheon in Sarasota as team works to expand to fans outside immediate Tampa area.
Bucs center Ryan Jensen, third from right, poses with team personnel at a luncheon at the University Park Country Club near Sarasota on Friday.
(GREG AUMAN | Times)
Bucs center Ryan Jensen, third from right, poses with team personnel at a luncheon at the University Park Country Club near Sarasota on Friday. (GREG AUMAN | Times)
Published Jul. 20, 2018|Updated Jul. 20, 2018

SARASOTA — The backdrop at University Park Country Club had a larger-than-life image of Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with one of the team's slogans for 2018: "JOIN THE KREWE."

New Bucs center Ryan Jensen was on hand for a luncheon hosted by the Sarasota and Manatee chambers of commerce, making an appearance along with key figures from the business side of the Bucs' operations.

"I'm just a normal guy with a really cool job," said Jensen, a major addition to the offensive line for the Bucs, who made him the NFL's highest-paid center with a four-year, $42 million contract in March.

Jensen told his story, going from a 215-pound high school graduate with only two scholarship offers to being drafted out of tiny Colorado State-Pueblo. He was cut a year later by the Ravens, but worked his way back onto the team and into a starting job, then a lucrative free-agent deal with the Bucs.

Jensen took photos with fans and the team's Lombardi Trophy, part of an outreach campaign to continue expanding the team's fan base.  The Bucs have had a sales office in Sarasota for five years.

"We looked at it and said 'There's immense opportunities in Sarasota,' as well as Orlando, where we have another office," said Ben Milsom, the Bucs' chief ticketing officer. "For us to be part of the community, we have to be in the community. We fully invested in it … this is a great market."

The Bucs offer a bus program to get fans from Sarasota to Raymond James Stadium on gamedays for just $15.

Tampa Bay hired Atul "A.K." Khosla away from being chief operating officer of the MLS' Chicago Fire last year to become the team's chief corporate development and brand officer. His task is working with the team's brand, but he said that is ultimately a personal relationship.

"Our premise is at the end of the day … people love people before they love brands," Khosla said. "If you want to be loved, behave like a person. We have a personality and that's something fundamental to what we believe in … how to go about building the next generation of fans."

The Bucs are coming off a disappointing 5-11 record and will open the season without quarterback Jameis Winston, who is suspended for the first three games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

RELATED: Winston absent as Bucs roll out 'WREAK HAVOC' promo videos

Chief operating officer Brian Ford said the business side of the Bucs understands it can be affected by the product on the field, but doesn't want to be dependent on that as they work to attract fans to the Bucs experience.

"I'm excited about the entire season," Ford said. "We just left a full staff meeting kickoff event for the season and training camp, and I told everybody we were the best 5-11 team in NFL history last year. … I'm excited because a lot of people are not expecting us. Last year, the expectations, everybody remembers 'Hard Knocks,' and there was a lot of excitement, both locally and nationally. … We're going to surprise a lot of people, and that's what I'm excited about."

The Bucs open training camp in the next week, with rookies reporting Monday and veterans on Wednesday. The first practice will be Thursday, with the first workout open to the general public set for July 29, though free passes for that session sold out quickly on the team's official site. A limited number of passes will be given out each day for fans that missed the chance to register for tickets online.

Jensen said the Bucs want to show the personalities under their helmets, though in his case, his personal side is different from the aggressive, physical player they'll see on the field this fall.

"On the field, I'm a different guy," he said. "Y'all are coming up to me, I'm giving you guys hugs and taking pictures. When I cross that line, I turn into a different guy. You wouldn't recognize me. The way I play the game, I'm a tone-setter guy. I'm going to be in people's face, playing through the whistle … irritating people. That's my style of play is to get in people's heads."


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