Long lines, not enough food or drink. Those complaints have followed Arizona-based AZ Food Festivals at events held across the country in the past year.
Though it is the same company that the Tampa Sports Authority announced is bringing the Tampa Taco and Margarita Festival to Raymond James Stadium on March 12, Tampa organizers say they have learned from the past mistakes and are taking measures to control the event.
At taco festivals held in Buffalo, N.Y., Pittsburgh, Des Moines, Iowa, and Fargo, N.D., attendees have left unhappy. The event was so troubled in North Dakota it prompted an investigation by the state’s attorney general. The complaints created a picture of inadequate preparation, with a sometimes hourlong wait for food, dwindling supplies and a serious lack of vendors.
“It definitely isn’t what was promised,” Jessica Furco told WDRB News in Louisville, Ky., after attending an AZ Food Festivals event in Buffalo over Labor Day weekend. “I hope that he’s stopped from doing this in the future.”
Promoter Adam Dobres blamed partnerships with local promoters for his past event troubles.
“Since the issues in the past and, moving forward, we do not partner with local promoters and have the venues ensure the food and beverage point on the event will be absolutely phenomenal,” Dobres said in an email. “Tampa is being run hand and hand with one of the best stadium teams in the world. The same people who hosted and executed WrestleMania and the Super Bowl are handling this event with us.”
David Moss, who serves as director of events for the Tampa Sports Authority at Raymond James Stadium, and Bobby Silvest, vice president of marketing for Tampa Sports Authority, said, unlike the other troubled events, AZ Food Festivals is being used for marketing and promotion only in Tampa. The stadium is handling the logistics.
“We are handling the ticket sales, the security, the gate,” Silvest said. “Our executive chef with Legends and staff that have many banquet events in the course of the year are as good as any caterer around. They are in the process of making signature tacos and margaritas for this event.”
The festival is expected to draw 5,000 to 7,000 people and Moss said they will add more food stalls around the stadium, depending on ticket sales, so that there won’t be long lines.
“We want to get the speed of the line going so you aren’t waiting an hour for a taco,” Silvest said. “We want them to experience all the different offerings.”
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Louisville ended up pressing forward with its festival in October, but stadium operator ASM Global told the local media that it took the helm and booked its own vendors and bands and primarily used AZ Food Festivals for marketing.
While reports at other festivals detailed long lines and slow service, the lines at the Oct. 2 event in Louisville moved quickly, considering the food was being made on the spot, according to TV station WDRB’s reporting.
The Tampa festival promises not only tacos and margaritas, but live performances by pro wrestlers, country music stars William Michael Morgan and Hayden Coffman and pop music star Ryan Cabrera, according to the Tampa Sports Authority.
More than 50 booths featuring Tampa’s local arts, crafts and small businesses will be set up around the stadium, an announcement said.
Moss said after the complaints piled up last year, Dobres shifted the way his festivals operated, giving over control of ticketing and event management.
“I think he’s learned some hard lessons in other markets,” Moss said. He said they had good reports from the Jacksonville Taco Festival held in July at the Jaguars’ stadium. “He has kind of shifted his model to bigger, more established venues and stadiums and sharing control of managing it.”
Silvest says he’s suspicious that there is a “concentrated effort” to undermine this event since emails with links to the company’s past troubles were sent to every county commissioner this week and also the media.
“We know how to run an event and make people safe,” Silvest said. “We want to make sure this is a fail-safe event because we think it is one that will grow and get bigger every year.”
The day will begin with VIP gates opening at 11 a.m. and general admission at noon on March 12. The festival will run through 7 p.m.
Tickets are on sale at ticketmaster.com for $12-$20 with free admission for kids 12 and younger. VIP packages of $59-$99 include early admission, two free margaritas and a T-shirt, and free food for the higher-level VIP tickets. Find information at tampabayfest.com.