1. Florida Politics

Pitbull strikes back, releases terms of $1 million contract with Visit Florida

Pitbull performs on stage at Amalie Arena in Tampa during the 2016 Bad Man Tour in July. (Photo Luis Santana | Times)
Pitbull performs on stage at Amalie Arena in Tampa during the 2016 Bad Man Tour in July. (Photo Luis Santana | Times)
Published Dec. 16, 2016

TALLAHASSEE — Visit Florida paid Miami pop music star Pitbull $1 million to promote the state on social media, in a music video and during concerts.

Pitbull took to social media on Thursday morning to release details of the secret contract after the Florida House of Representatives filed suit earlier this week to force him to disclose the terms.

"It's been an honor to represent Miami and the Sunshine State," Pitbull wrote on Twitter. "I've taken Miami and Florida worldwide — WAY before any contract, and will do so way after. I love my home state. When asked to take on a New Year's show, I INSISTED it be live from Florida. #LoveFL Since birth . . . . . and till the day I die. Dale!"

Visit Florida had refused to release details of the contract that paid Pitbull from July 2015 to June 2016, saying the deal was a protected "trade secret." Visit Florida CEO Will Seccombe said he'll never do another contract that doesn't disclose the terms because of the position the Pitbull contract has put everyone in. He insists the deal was a good one, allowing Visit Florida to reach an audience that avoids traditional advertising and media.

But that wasn't good enough for the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature which insisted the deal be made public so taxpayers could see how much the agency was paying Pitbull to promote Florida beaches in a music video with strong sexual undertones. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a critic of Visit Florida's marketing efforts, filed a lawsuit against Pitbull's production company on Tuesday, challenging his claim that the contract contained trade secrets.

Pitbull's attorney initially had no comment on the suit, but on Thursday as the Florida House and Pitbull attorneys tried to negotiate a deal, Pitbull jumped on Twitter and released the entire contract.

The deal paid Pitbull:

• $250,000 in July 2015 for a "talent fee" and use of his name and likeness.

• $250,000 after he completed a music video for Sexy Beaches that included footage of Florida beaches and a social media hashtag promoting Florida.

• $100,000 for cutting a 10 to 15 second intro as part of a "Conquering Florida" video series Visit Florida uses to promote the state.

• $100,000 for six "Florida Pit Package" sweepstakes that would include travel packages to Florida.

• $300,000 for promoting Florida on social media platforms at least two times a month with the hashtag #LoveFL.

Seccombe said he wanted to release the deal sooner because Florida is getting a big return on its investment in terms of marketing reach. But he said Pitbull's attorneys refused to allow it.

"I would have shouted it off the rooftops because it is such a good deal," Seccombe said.

He said he has research that shows for every $1 Florida spent, it got nearly $9 in return through marketing the state to Pitbull's fans. He said reaching that audience is difficult because like many younger groups, traditional media advertising doesn't get them.

Corcoran said Thursday the Legislature should not have had to go to such great lengths to get the contract disclosed.

"It is unfortunate that it took litigation to lift the veil of secrecy on this particular contract," Corcoran said in a statement. "This was a long unnecessary journey through claims of trade secrets, threats of prosecution, and corporate welfare paid for by taxpayers. The people's House will not hesitate to use every tool at our disposal to protect the taxpayer and ensure transparency is the rule and not the exception in state government."

The Pitbull contract is one of several Visit Florida deals that has drawn concern from the Florida Legislature. Visit Florida spent more than $2.8 million on a LeMans style racing team this year, and gave $1.2 million to a British soccer team to promote the state, including having "Visit Florida" on its jersey and on its stadium rooftop.

Visit Florida said it is all part of a strategy to find more high-end visitors, who studies show will stay longer and spend more money.

But state lawmakers worry the agency has gone unchecked as its budgets have ballooned. Since 2009, the Florida Legislature has increased Visit Florida's budget from $29 million to $78 million. Visit Florida has requested a $76 million budget for 2017-2018.