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Sunday Conversation: Amalie Arena's Kevin Preast tells Tampa Bay's story

Courtesy of Kevin Preast  Kevin Preast, right, the senior vice president of event management at the Amalie Arena is pictured with the late singer-songwriter Tom Petty.
Courtesy of Kevin Preast Kevin Preast, right, the senior vice president of event management at the Amalie Arena is pictured with the late singer-songwriter Tom Petty.
Published Aug. 3, 2018

Kevin Preast tells the story of Tampa Bay every day. • As the Amalie Arena senior vice president of event management, Preast not only holds the responsibility of booking live events at the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but also oversees concert placement for the University of South Florida's Yuengling Center.

It's a position that requires Preast to share the area's success with people who know Tampa Bay and with those who still see our home as a sleepy little burg. Ultimately, the goal is to do more than book acts but to build Amalie Arena's reputation as a cultural center for the community.

Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Steve Griggs touted that philosophy in helping lure Preast in 2015 from a similar role with Philips Arena in Atlanta.

"Live events bring people together who have similar interests regardless of who they are or their socioeconomic background," Preast said. "Live events cannot be duplicated through a screen, whether it's your phone, an iPad or a computer screen. Steve's desire to do things that spoke to everybody in the community is totally aligned with what I believe in my heart."

Preast recently spoke with Tampa Bay Times columnist Ernest Hooper about his role with the Arena, Tampa Bay's musical identity and why he's hosting an event at the arena for his Leadership Tampa class.

Given your role at Amalie, how often during the course of a day do you find yourself putting down Orlando?

I actually never say that. I was booking Philips Arena in Atlanta. Similar environment except an NBA team with the Hawks instead of an NHL team with the Lightning. It was a bigger market, more diverse crowds, etc. What I learned in Atlanta was that if an act was coming to Atlanta they were coming. It was just a matter of what venue were they playing. Are they trying to do a club or an outdoors venue or an arena? When I got to Tampa, I heard things like, "Well, you got the show last time so, they're going to Orlando this time."

Yes, there seems to be this competition between Amalie Arena and the Amway Center.

I thought that was the most bizarre thing I had ever heard of in my life. You've got the 11th largest market in the country and you've got the 18th largest market in the country. I get the proximity thing, but they're two totally different markets. So I started saying, "Why wouldn't you play both?" If you have 20 dates, how are you not going to play 11 and 18. Play 1-20 and play both. I talked to my counterparts in Orlando and I've told them I'll never say a bad word about you guys.

That's nice.

It's a great building, it's a great market, they do a lot of great things there, but — and we've done significant analysis of the data of who our ticket buyers are — we actually have more out-of-state ticket buyers coming to events at Amalie or Yuengling than we have coming from the Orlando zip codes. I've even challenged anyone who wants to say Tampa or Orlando. I've offered to buy them a flight to Tampa, a rental car and a flight back home out of Orlando or vice-versa. I always say it might be about an inch on a map or your cell phone, come drive that inch, I will pay for it — and then tell me we're the same market.

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Yeah, that makes sense.

No one has yet to take me up on that offer, but you're starting to see more and more acts — Pearl Jam, Mumford and Sons, Justin Timberlake — playing both now. The reality is that's smart business for them.

You've developed telling the story of Tampa. Elaborate on that.

Tampa is a boomtown. We're growing at an exponential rate with more than 200 people a day moving into our DMA (Designated Market Area). We're getting younger, we're getting more diverse, we're getting more innovative and we have more disposable dollars than ever. And that's only continuing to grow. Explaining that to people who aren't from here, or who don't understand what's happening here, has been my challenge.

How much would it help if Tampa had a stronger musical identity?

It's not hip-hop of Atlanta, it's not country of Nashville, it's not Latino of Miami or what have you. We need to develop that story, but I think we can do that by being authentic to Tampa. When acts come into town, we try to create unique opportunities for them to embrace our community.

Give me an example.

We'll do research on them. If they're a beer connoisseur, we'll make sure they have a good selection of craft beers from the Tampa Bay community. If they're cigar smokers, we'll go get some of the hand-rolled cigars from Ybor City and present them as gifts. If they're big coffee drinkers, we can look at Buddy Brew or Kahwa or something that's organic to Tampa. There's an amazing organization called Bourbon and Boweties that's based out of Tampa, and we try to provide gifts from that for female acts.

Carrie Underwood is a great example. She was here not too long ago and presenting her with a Tampa Bay Lightning jersey probably wouldn't be the most appropriate thing with her husband being the captain of the Nashville Predators.

One of the young ladies on our team said let's get her something just for her. So she went online to Bourbon and Boweties — we have a relationship with them through the Lightning — and there was a Carrie bracelet and a Marie bracelet, which is her middle name. So we presented those to her as an authentic Tampa Bay gift.

How much has being in the Chamber of Commerce's "Leadership Tampa" enhanced your ability to tell Leadership Tampa's story.

It's given me so much content I haven't even used it all. One of the things I've learned about Tampa is this community gives back to itself, more than anyone realizes.

So your Leadership Tampa Class of 2018 will host a "prom" at the arena's Firestick Grill on Friday (Aug. 10) for the class project. How did you come up with that idea?

We seemed to have a strong presence of marketing and events people in our group. So, as we were talking through it, we thought it would be a good use of our varying skill sets to put on an event. From that, we decided we want to create something not just for our class project, but an event for a community that gives back to itself, and an annual get together. So, every year, we want to host this event and hope it will be sort of a class reunion for the class.

That's ambitious.

Well, it's not "kind of" Leadership Tampa (laughs). I will say in our group, we have a lot of A-Type personalities. Each one of us individually will conquer the world, but collectively we're just a bunch of hard-headed business people (laughs). So, we love the idea of creating something that not only would bring us back together but that we could extend to other classes, our spouses and our businesses.

Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity. Contact Ernest Hooper at Follow him @hoop4you.