TAMPA — As CEO of Majesty Title Services, Vincent Cassidy knows the benefit of using sports events to entertain clients.
His firm spent about $15,000 on corporate packages to Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games this season. It also used to buy four Tampa Bay Rays season tickets until about three years ago, when tickets for 40 games went unused.
"If I can't give away half the season and I'm not going, that's not the best use of my money," Cassidy said. "That means my clients weren't interested in going."
But Cassidy said his firm would buy tickets again if the Rays played in Ybor City.
That's why he joined the Rays 100, a group of executives and civic leaders willing to serve as ambassadors for the effort to move the Rays across Tampa Bay.
About 75 members of the group were unveiled Wednesday at an event organized by Tampa Bay Rays 2020, a nonprofit group set up to recruit businesses supporting the move.
"It feels real good to look around and see a whole bunch of people with us," said Sykes Enterprises CEO Chuck Sykes, who founded the 2020 group along with Tampa attorney Ron Christaldi.
Along with promoting the cause within their circles of influence, members of the Rays 100 will work to "actively secure financial support for the Tampa Bay Rays in coordination with the Rays 2020 effort through significant pledges of sponsorships and ticket sales," Christaldi said.
With the design, size and potential cost of a stadium — half a billion dollars? more? — still to be determined, little is known about prices for ticket packages or suites.
Still, sponsorships are expected to be available at three levels: for naming rights on the ballpark, as founding partners and as corporate partners. Christaldi said there's been some preliminary discussion on sponsorships, but he did not have price ranges Wednesday.
More than half a dozen members interviewed at the kickoff said it was too soon to predict how much they or their companies would commit to season tickets or sponsorships.
"We're not really sure what they're going to ask of us, except to be ambassadors and we're happy to do that," Tampa accountant Robert Watkins said.
Coca Cola Beverages Florida CEO Troy Taylor said the fact that his company just signed a substantial sponsorship deal to take over the soft drink concession at Tropicana Field meant that it would invest in Tampa Bay Rays 2020's efforts.
"I don't have an exact idea, but I will tell you that we will commit dollars," he said. "You can count on us to do it because we've already committed dollars to the Rays."
Jason Woody, president and CEO of the Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research, and real estate executive Mike Griffin, who serves on the governing board of Port Tampa Bay, were named as vice chairmen.
Griffin said it's premature to say what the likely ask is going to be, other than it probably needs to be tailored to the circumstances of particular companies and organizations.
"I know the team's working on some of those kinds of packages," he said. "So much is first building awareness and building excitement about it. Ultimately we've got to get to every Little League. We've got to get to every neighborhood association. It's not just a downtown thing or a business community thing."
Whether through his company or himself individually, Griffin said he expects to increase his Rays spending.
"I've been a season ticket holder at one point for the Rays, and I go to a lot of games," he said. "But I will go to a lot more once the ballpark's in a more convenient location."
Tampa Bay Rays 2020, which has received funding from the Rays, will be the umbrella organization for the push to rally business support for the team's potential relocation. The Rays 100 will be one part of that initiative, but not the only part.
There's also a smaller advisory group created to function as a steering committee for Tampa Bay Rays 2020 efforts. Along with Sykes, Christaldi, Woody, Griffin and Taylor, the advisory group — not all of whom will be members of the Rays 100, too — is expected to include:
• Tech Data chief executive officer Bob Dutkowsky.
• Robin DeLaVergne, executive director at the Tampa General Hospital Foundation.
• Tires Plus founder Larry Morgan.
• Ken Jones, the CEO of Third Lake Capital, an investment fund formed by the Wanek family, which owns Ashley Furniture.
• Columbia restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart.
• Mise en Place owner Maryann Ferenc.
There also is expected to be a larger group, the Friends of the Rays, for supporters of the move who want to be engaged and help spread the message.
Increasing business support for the team is a main reason Rays owner Stuart Sternberg said in February that Ybor City is the franchise's top choice for the next Rays ballpark. Typically, Major League Baseball teams sell two-thirds of their season tickets to corporate patrons and one third to individual fans. For the Rays, that ratio is reversed.
Flip the ratio, advocates say, and an Ybor City ballpark could be an economic engine that would complement redevelopment in Ybor City, the Channel District and Tampa Heights.
"This is a transformational opportunity for our community," Sykes told the group. "A once in a lifetime opportunity, and it's also one of those things, guys, that we can accomplish in a finite time. So many of the things that we work on take place over many, many, many years, but this is one that we can literally get it done.
"We can do something great today."
Contact Richard Danielson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times. Contact Christoper O'Donnell at email@example.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.
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