The Tampa Bay area pulled off another spectacular event this weekend in hosting the Women’s Final Four. While the excitement inside Amalie Arena flowed until the buzzer Sunday night as Baylor defeated Notre Dame by a single point, the event drew thousands to other bay area attractions, leaving indelible impressions on visitors and fans here at home. It’s a moment to both enjoy our success and plan for the next big thing.
This was the bay area’s third Women’s Final Four, which smashed attendance records and gave fans plenty to do beyond attending the games. The region knows how to throw big events, whether it’s Gasparilla or a national political convention, Super Bowls or the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. With Tampa swearing in a new mayor and city council on May 1, it’s worth remembering what works and the value of performing well on the national stage.
1. Valuing public-private teamwork. Hosting a major event requires partnerships of all kinds. Local governments must be willing to devote the necessary resources, from police to public works. Private business - from sports officials to corporate sponsors - must spend the money necessary to make these events exciting and inclusive. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik helped set the table by spending millions to modernize downtown Tampa’s Amalie Arena, and by creating a fan experience outside that serves as a lively warm-up for the main event. That’s a welcoming environment for visitors and a visual that sells to a television audience.
2. Creating distinctive downtowns. Would St. Pete have a Grand Prix without its beautiful waterfront? That is a public asset a century in the making. In Tampa, the completion of the Riverwalk from Tampa Heights to the channel district - an idea 40 years in the making - has transformed the city center and reawakened the downtown waterfront. Both cities offer regular quality programming of a range of events, from art and music to road races.
3. Including everyone. Attending an expensive marquee event is not everybody’s thing. It’s important to provide multiple options of free entertainment that add to the atmosphere and attract fans, tourists and residents. More than 2,000 fans enjoyed Sunday’s Final Four bounce event, where children 18 and under dribbled basketballs in a massive march along the Riverwalk. Will these parents ever forget the moment? How long will that basketball take a coveted place in a child’s bedroom?
4. Focusing on the basics. Every big event requires mastering the logistics. That’s why it’s imperative that the region work together in amplifying its strengths and addressing its shortcomings. Host cities across the region have a long history of partnering with local tourism bureaus, entertainment attractions, Tampa International Airport and other major players in elevating the fan experience. Tampa and St. Pete are known for hosting events that are safe and highlight the tastes, sounds and look of Tampa Bay. Now how about creating a viable regional mass transit system that would fill a void?
As Tampa’s new mayor and council prepare to take office, it’s worth remembering that these events don’t come to the bay area by accident. Organizers have plenty of cities to choose from, and they keep coming back here for a reason. Having a booster at City Hall helps. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joined Lightning supporters Monday in hoisting a banner on the side of the municipal office building in support of the Lightning’s first playoff round, which begins Wednesday in Tampa. Starting Monday night, the city also planned to light bridges, fountains, trees and the old City Hall in Lightning blue. This is the kind of energy that makes a vibrant metropolitan area.
And mark your calendar: Tampa Bay will host its fifth Super Bowl in less than 22 months.