A year away, Tampa prepares for back-to-back Gasparilla and Super Bowl weekends

For two consecutive weekends, Tampa will be home to what will likely be the largest event crowd in the nation. Can we handle it?
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla arrive on the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship in January. Next year, they'll be back, and Super Bowl, too.
Members of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla arrive on the Jose Gasparilla pirate ship in January. Next year, they'll be back, and Super Bowl, too. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | TImes ]
Published March 2, 2020

TAMPA — Beads from the Gasparilla festivities are still scattered around parts of South Tampa. Social media only just stopped buzzing over Shakira and Jennifer Lopez in the Super Bowl halftime show.

But city and county leaders are already focused on the 2021 versions of those events when Tampa hosts them on back-to-back weekends next year.

The Gasparilla Parade of Pirates makes its way down Bayshore Boulevard January 30, 2021. Eight days later, on February 7, the Super Bowl kick offs at Raymond James Stadium.

For two consecutive weekends, Tampa will be home to what will likely be the largest event crowd in the nation.

“In other places, I’d worry about fatigue,” Visit Tampa Bay president and chief executive officer Santiago Corrada said. “But not here. We’ve done this before.”

Back-to-back Super Bowl/Gasparilla weekends last occurred in 2009. And in 2001, they were held on the very same day.

In 2018, Gasparilla and the NHL All-Star Skills Competition also took place on the same day, and the All-Star hockey game on the next.

Related: 'Piratically speaking,' NHL thrilled to don Gasparilla garb for All-Star Game

Still, Corrada said, no one charged with pulling off this feat is resting on their laurels.

“The key is to be prepared,” he said. “We’re already thinking about what we need to do.”

For law enforcement, said Tampa Mayor (and former police chief) Jane Castor, the biggest issue will be “personnel demands.”

No one can take off the week of the Super Bowl, she said, and all are on duty on Gasparilla day.

“We have just under 1,000 law enforcement officers who know the demands of special events like these,” Castor said. “But it’s these events that truly show how remarkable our police department is.”

Related: Here’s how Tampa Bay has changed since its last Super Bowl

It helps that the two major events will occur in different sections of the city, Visit Tampa Bay’s Corrada said. (Gasparilla takes over South Tampa and downtown. The Super Bowl will be played at the stadium in West Tampa, though related events will likely take place around town.)

That means both areas can be physically prepared simultaneously.

“Challenges that some other cities might have because everything is in the same concentrated space is not a challenge here,” Corrada said.

But there will be synergy.

In 2018, the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup championship trophy rode aboard the Gasparilla pirate ship on parade day. And this year, Dave Bautista, the retired wrestler-turned-Hollywood-star, was the parade’s grand marshal in advance of WrestleMania coming to Tampa in April.

“We’ve had solid initial discussions with the Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla about collaborating together to make this a tremendous success for both events, and most importantly, our hometown,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which helped land the Super Bowl.

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Added Ye Mystic Krewe Captain Richard Chapman: “We always welcome the opportunity to showcase our signature city community event to a wider audience.”

Related: Seven big Tampa Bay projects racing to be ready for Super Bowl 55

Still, Tampa doesn’t have a flawless history of hosting the Super Bowl and Gasparilla.

In 1991, when the Super Bowl came to town, Gasparilla was scheduled to take place the Saturday before the big game to showcase the city’s biggest event to the world.

But when the National Football League learned that Ye Mystic Krewe did not have black members back then, they pressed for inclusion. The Krewe cancelled the parade.

The city planned a substitute event, Bamboleo, a parade promoted as multicultural.

It rained. The event bombed.

Related: Diverse Gasparilla parade has transcended insult of racism

The Krewe later accepted African American members.

In 2001, the Gasparilla parade was again scheduled for the day before the Super Bowl in Tampa. Around 750,000 showed up for the parade, which usually welcomes half that number.

Traffic was so bad that many staying downtown couldn’t get to Super Bowl events also held that day.

But in 2009, the events successfully took place on back-to-back weekends — as they will again this year.

“That means two solid, solid weekends” of hotel bookings, Corrada said.

Hillsborough County’s hotel occupancy on Gasparilla day is typically more than 80 percent, according to Visit Tampa Bay reports. But it reached 90.6 percent in 2018 when Gasparilla shared the stage with the National Hockey League.

Corrada said Super Bowl weekend’s occupancy rate next year could soar above 90 percent.

Still, while Hillsborough might enjoy a good party, he noted, numbers say it’s even more into romance.

Hillsborough’s hotel occupancy on this past Valentine’s Day, according to Visit Tampa Bay, was 96.1 percent.