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Supercross looks for Tampa return to rev up economy

TAMPA

When the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship series heads to Tampa on Feb. 24, the interior of Raymond James Stadium will be transformed into an artificial, man-made dirt track consisting of steep jumps and obstacles.

As part of the 17-event series, high-powered motorcycle riders will compete, executing hairpin turns and jumps that bring them eye-level with fans in the club section.

"I don't think there's anything quite like it,'' said Supercross rider Joey Savatgy, who competes with a Kawasaki 250 bike. "I think the fans of Tampa are in for a treat.''

And according to event organizers, the Tampa Bay area will receive a significant economic boost.

Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, is no stranger to the area's big events. He's currently working on the NHL All-Star Game weekend, slated for January at Amalie Arena. He was part of the group that landed Super Bowl LV for Tampa in 2021.

But Higgins said AMA Supercross, which hasn't been held here since 1998 at the old Tampa Stadium, will be an intriguing addition to the area's sports calendar. With its loyal following and growing number of new fans, Higgins said the Supercross event could generate 10,000 hotel room-night stays for the area.

"We're on such a great roll at hosting events and this one (Supercross) checks all the boxes at what we're looking for,'' Higgins said. "We look at economic impact because we have a destination build on hospitality and tourism. We look at social impact and here's a chance to help grow a sport and give it some exposure for local kids. We look at exposure for our area and it's being covered by Fox Sports nationally. It's going to be a great addition for us.''

The event already has been embraced by local riders and motorcycle dealers, particularly because it will include an amateur competition at the same venue, covering 28 different racing classes and all skill levels.

"I was about 3 when I started to ride and it took a while before I knew I wanted to race,'' Savatgy said. "Now this sport is doing a great job of growing its base. To actually get on the same track as the racers, that's a big deal. We're all interested in growing this thing, so it makes sense. We always want to reach out to the fans and make them a big part of this.''

Tampa's ancillary businesses feel the same way.

"This is really important to us as power sports dealers, giving an opportunity to participate for someone who has maybe watched this on TV,'' said Todd Hempstead, an owner of the Barney's motorcycle dealership, which has three Tampa Bay area locations. "Kids who might play football or something else could see this as something they'd be interested in doing and that's good for our industry. There are only so many of these events to go around, so having one in Tampa is huge.''

Ellenton-based Feld Entertainment production company, which owns Supercross, has been considering a Tampa event for several years. Dave Prater, Feld's Director of Supercross, said it made sense because many riders live and train in the Tampa Bay area. Last year's $150-million facelift at Raymond James Stadium also made for a more attractive venue.

"We have our headquarters here, so it was a natural for a lot of reasons,'' Prater said. "The fact that it hasn't been held in Tampa for nearly two decades has made fans eager for its return. We've been to Jacksonville and Orlando in recent years. Tampa is definitely ready for it.''

Higgins and Eric Hart, the Tampa Sports Authority's executive director, said they're hopeful that Supercross events will have a permanent home in the Tampa Bay area.

"Our community does a really good job with hosting things, so we look at events of all different shapes and sizes,'' Higgins said. "This one could be really great. It core demographic (ages 18-35) is important for us and we think it will translate into something big for everyone in the area.''

"Our venue is very busy and we've announced some pretty big concerts (Kenny Chesney, Ed Sheeran) for 2018,'' Hart said. "But we like to be busy and active. It adds a lot to offer exciting events and we think the Supercross is going to be a great addition.''

Contact Joey Johnston at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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