Pinellas tourism bureau moves forward with $1 million in Super Bowl funding

The $1 million marketing deal still needs to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners in November.
The next Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at Raymond James Stadium despite pandemic uncertainty.
The next Super Bowl is scheduled to be played at Raymond James Stadium despite pandemic uncertainty. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 21, 2020

CLEARWATER ― Pinellas county’s tourism board cut upwards of $15 million from its expenses to make up for missing revenue caused by the pandemic, but the tourism bureau is still poised to put up $1 million toward a Super Bowl marketing deal.

The $1 million deal was discussed at Tourism Development Council meeting Wednesday but still has to be approved by the Board of County Commissioners next month. Meanwhile, tourism bureau Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater is approaching the end of its fiscal year. Although the county’s tourism revenue is coming in several millions below what was budgeted before the pandemic, the tourism bureau CEO Steve Hayes says things are ending stronger than projected.

The county collects a 6 percent tourism tax on overnight stays. With hotel occupancy rates hovering below 50 percent across Tampa Bay, the amount of money collected by the county to pay for capital projects and its marketing efforts has plummeted. For the last several years, Pinellas has collected around $60 million, regularly breaking its own collections records.

“We still have one month left for the county report, so that number will go up to $45 or $46 million." Hayes said during the virtual meeting Wednesday. “Thank God I’m not a forecaster, because when we were first looking at this, we thought we’d be at $37 million.”

Related: The NFL still hopes to fill the stadium with fans at Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7, but contingency plans are in place.

Ahead of the pandemic, Rob Higgins, who leads the Super Bowl 55 host committee Rob Higgins approached Pinellas County’s tourism board seeking a $1.5 million in support. But the uncertainty caused by the pandemic paused the conversation for the last several months. Higgins returned to the board Wednesday with slightly scaled back plans starting at $1.25 million. The board voted to set a $1 million limit.,

The deal would ensure Pinellas County is featured in video clips shown during the game, that its logo is included on marketing materials, gets a promo booth at the media center at the conventions center and receives other opportunities to be visible during and leading up to the Feb. 7 game.

It’s still unclear what capacity limits could be in place on the game at Raymond James Stadium due to COVID-19 or what exactly game day and the week leading up to it will look like.

“Our job as a region is to maximize the opportunities for our hometown,” Higgins said during the meeting. “The Super Bowl is very unique in the economic and social impact. Whatever the scenario turns out to be, we’re going to help our region shine.”

The bulk of events by the hosting committee will be funded through undisclosed private partnerships, Higgins said.

Across the bay, Hillsborough County has already put up $5 million in similar backing: $3 million from the Hillsborough County Tourist Development Council, $1 million from Visit Tampa Bay and $1 million from the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.