BY AMY SCHERZER, LifeTimes Correspondent
TAMPA – The Tampa Bay area’s exceptional hospitality rating continues to soar, building on the superb reputation begun when the region hosted its first Super Bowl in 1984.
“The fifth time’s the charm,” said Lisa Urban, director of the Community Ambassador program created to prep and position 8,000 volunteers to meet, greet and guide Super Bowl 55 visitors.
“We’re so excited for the energy and enthusiasm they bring,” Urban said. “We definitely could not be successful without the support of such a robust team.”
It’s a winning arrangement: Community Ambassadors have fun and feel good donating their time and Bay area pride; the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee gets a free, friendly and reliable crew.
No, the volunteer Community Ambassadors don’t get to go to the big game, they don’t even get inside Raymond James Stadium. They’ll be posted at hotels, Tampa International Airport and both sides of the Hillsborough River, all along the downtown Tampa Riverwalk and Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park.
Downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk will host the free Super Bowl Experience presented by Lowe’s Jan. 29 to 31 and from Feb. 3 to 6. There, fans can virtually meet current players and legends, visit the NFL Shop and enjoy the Vince Lombardi trophy and Super Bowl ring display.
Thousands of ambassador assignments filled within a few hours, Urban said. Many of the workers are frequent volunteers at the numerous amateur sporting events and youth competitions organized by the Tampa Bay Sports Commission in conjunction with Visit Tampa Bay.
All volunteers must clear a criminal background check and attend an orientation training, held virtually this year. Shifts are 4 to 6 hours. Team captains, selected for their previous sports event experience, work eight- to 10-hour shifts.
Playing it smart until he gets a COVID-19 vaccination, Les Lloyd opted for an outdoor assignment rather than join the Community Ambassadors assisting arrivals at Tampa International Airport.
“Pre-pandemic, I was volunteering at 50 to 70 events a year,” said the St. Pete Beach resident. “I’ve done just about every big event by the Tampa Bay Sports Commission ... the NCAA Frozen Four Ice Hockey Championship and the Women’s Final Four, both basketball and volleyball, the Firestone Grand Prix 5K.”
The list goes on.
A retired IT professional, Lloyd, 63, hung banners at Tampa Bay’s Tailgate Taste Fest, ran a VIP area at the Gasparilla Music Festival and assisted the media at the DoD Warrior Games for wounded and injured service members and veterans.
Lloyd chuckled at runners in pink tutus at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Treasure Chests 5K breast cancer benefit; sold T-shirts at the Florida Firefighter Games and helped photographers at Hooters World’s Largest Fantasy Draft Party where the guests’ pictures magically appeared on the Jumbotron.
The more he volunteered, the more Lloyd saw a need for a recruitment clearinghouse, leading him to create Volunteer Village in 2018. He also posts opportunity updates on a Facebook page for St. Pete Volunteers.
Super Bowl LV is next and he can’t wait.
“You’re a resource tool, helping people have an exhilarating and memorable experience,” says Bill Schauber, “And that’s important to me.
" Super Bowl LV will be the retired Safeway executive’s first time as a team captain for the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, but Schauber recounts volunteering at scores of sports events, including Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans, Super Bowl L in San Francisco and more than 30 PGA tournaments.
“Where’s the merchandise tent … where’s the bathroom area? The PGA calls it ‘Know and Glow,’” Schauber said. “How we interface will make a quality memory for every guest who walks through the gate.”
Schauber gets to make his own memories, too: Chatting with Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre exiting an interview. Grabbing a photo with superstar Tony Dorsett in a hotel lobby. Asking Broncos quarterback John Elway if he’d like a soda. Playing cards with pro golfer Tom Watson while helping out at Valspar at Innisbrook.
“I love people and I’m an organizational guy,” said Schauber, 67, who resides half the year in Old Northeast St. Petersburg and half in Sonoma. A part-time job in a pro shop in California is more social than work.
“I don’t volunteer to meet stars,” he emphasizes, “but I keep my eyes open and you see these opportunities, those child-like, wide-eyed, aha! moments.
“And that’s the wow.”
Community Ambassador Janice Fisher kicks off her third Super Bowl volunteer stint welcoming a smaller, coronavirus-conscious, but no less enthusiastic crowd than she assisted back in 2001 and 2009.
All of her six shifts will be at the NFL Super Bowl Experience – outside, with masks, and socially distanced.
“I won’t know what they’ll have me doing until I get there,” Fisher said. “But I know everything will be well run. The (Tampa Bay) sports commission is the most organized group I’ve ever worked for.”
And there have been quite a number of organizations tapping Fisher’s time and talents.
The south Tampa resident has volunteered at the Gasparilla Music Festival, the Tampa Bay Lightning Bolts Family Carnival and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful clean-up projects.
Fisher, 57, enjoyed setting up and selling tickets at the Tampa Bay Tailgate Taste Fest and working on logistics and various activities at the NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament.
“I’m a worker bee,” she said. “I could be a captain bee, but I choose not to be.”
The variety of fun tasks hooked her husband Drew as well. He’s signed up for three shifts at his second Super Bowl volunteer experience.
“We believe in giving back … time if not money,” said Janice.
“They put out an email blast and I’m there,” said Eric Smith, rattling off his roster of volunteer gigs with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission over the past eight years: Two NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournaments, the Men’s Frozen Four hockey championship, “and the best was the College Football Playoffs Championship when I got to go inside and watch Clemson beat Alabama. That was awesome.”
During Super Bowl week, the New Tampa resident will happily share local tips with visiting fans on the RiverWalk, “restaurants and things to do they might not find on their own.”
A tax consultant for Publix, Smith, 39, gets the biggest kick volunteering with youngsters. He’s worked the Game Day of Champions Soccer invitational at the University of South Florida and the Tampa Bay Kids Triathlon at Adventure Island. He gets the biggest thrill helping at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Game Day of Champions.
“To see the absolute excitement and joy of the youth football players getting to play in the same stadium as the Bucs,” Smith said. “The kids tour the Bucs locker room and jump up and down when they find their favorite player’s locker.”