On Jan. 1, 2012, the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times. The change wouldn’t just mark a new chapter for the newspaper. It ushered in a shift of the whole region.
“We really do now see greater cohesion and integration in the different parts of Tampa Bay, but back then Tampa and St. Pete were indeed rivals and very different,” said Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Tampa Bay Times. “There was not a sense of regional community as there is today.”
In 2019, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce adopted a new name — the Tampa Bay Chamber. It’s no coincidence this followed the name change at the paper, said Bob Rohrlack, Tampa Bay Chamber president and CEO.
“The paper was really the pioneer in stepping up to acknowledge the regional growth all coming together,” he said. “Most people went, ‘wow,’ but the second thought was, ‘this really makes sense.’ ”
It wasn’t the first time the newspaper’s name changed. The paper started in a Dunedin pharmacy as the West Hillsborough Times in 1884. At the time, St. Petersburg and Pinellas County hadn’t yet been created, and the peninsula was actually part of a larger Hillsborough County.
The paper moved to present-day St. Petersburg in 1892, and became the St. Petersburg Times in 1898. It would go on to lead a political drive to carve off Pinellas as a new county, Tash said.
“It’s a great irony exactly 100 years old,” Tash remembered. “On Jan. 1, 1912, Pinellas County becomes its own county at the behest of the St. Petersburg Times.”
By the 1980s, the same newspaper that pushed for the creation of its own county embarked on a quest to expand into Hillsborough. It had become clear that having St. Petersburg in the paper’s name was a point of resistance for readers across the bay.
“It made us feel like we weren’t local, or we were from somewhere else,” Tash said.
Tampa was, and still is, experiencing an economic boom. Local media outlets were aware of the power in the city’s name, said Tampa Bay Times breaking news editor Dennis Joyce.
“If you wanted to be the paper of this market, you want to have Tampa in your name,” said Joyce, who used to work at the Tampa Tribune. “There’s no way around it.”
The Tribune, the Times’ main local competition, moved preemptively to block potential encroachment by its rival. The Tribune had published an afternoon newspaper, the Tampa Times, until 1982, and it added a trademark for Tampa Bay Times. Because you have to use a trademark to keep it, they placed the Tampa Bay Times in small type in their weekend entertainment section.
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Fast forward to the summer of 2001, when the Tampa Tribune redesigned its pages. Tash flipped through the paper and noticed that the Tampa Bay Times label on the Friday Extra section was gone.
“It takes three years without the trademark’s use before the trademark is considered abandoned,” he said. “And so we watched and we waited.”
Tash knew if the Tribune remembered why they had used the phrase in the first place — or realized they had stopped using it — they could easily incorporate it back into the design.
“All it would take is one use to start the clock again,” he said.
But it didn’t appear in print again. In the fall of 2004, the St. Petersburg Times launched a free weekly tabloid aimed at younger audiences. The plan, which was kept quiet until the last moment, was to call it tbt*, standing for Tampa Bay Times.
The Tampa Tribune didn’t take action, and tbt* was successful. So in spring 2006, the paper decided to print the tabloid five times a week — emphasizing the Tampa Bay Times.
Just before the launch of the daily tabloid, the company that owned the Tampa Tribune filed a trademark lawsuit in the United States District Court in Tampa, requesting that the St. Petersburg Times pay damages and stop its Tampa Bay Times plan. The Tribune said it was too close to Tampa Times, which they had not abandoned. Ultimately, Judge James S. Moody granted an injunction to stop the Times from moving ahead with the Tampa Bay Times as the main name, but allowed the paper to continue using tbt*.
The daily tabloid launched and the St. Petersburg Times countersued the company that owned the Tribune. By the fall of 2006, both parties went into mediation and agreed that the St. Petersburg Times would not use the Tampa Bay Times in any more prominent ways than it already was for the next five years. After that, there would be no restrictions on use.
“We knew we would have the opportunity to change, but the St. Pete Times was a storied brand,” Tash said.
Before the change, it was mostly only local sports teams — like the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tampa Bay Lightning — that embraced the regional name. A brand consultant was hired to run focus groups and tests to help with the transition. They warned there might be resistance from people on both sides of the bay. And indeed, there were objections. Reader comments included:
“There is no place called Tampa Bay.”
“Tampa Bay is a body of water.”
“The only thing in Tampa Bay are fish and bridges.”
Nonetheless, on Jan. 1, 2012, the name change was official. For the most part, Tash said, folks have warmed up to it. When the Times acquired the Tampa Tribune in 2016, it became the sole daily newspaper in the market.
Since then, other organizations in the area have adopted the regional name too.
The Tampa Bay Chamber looked to the Times as an example, asking for information on the survey the paper conducted.
Other groups have moved in that direction, from the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council to Port Tampa Bay.
“It’s a natural evolutionary step of the acknowledgment of this region getting bigger and stronger together, just more diverse as we keep growing this way,” Rohrlack said.