The minute the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won Super Bowl 55, Roberto Torres went to work.
The owner of Tampa clothing outfitter Black and Denim was licensed to sell official Bucs and NFL merchandise at his stores in Tampa International Airport, including the same T-shirts Tom Brady and the team wore on the field during the celebration.
As soon as victory was assured, he started unpacking and displaying the new gear. Fans were already waiting to buy it. By mid-morning on Monday, he’d sold almost 25 percent of his entire championship inventory.
And he still hadn’t slept.
“The best thing that could have happened to us was (A) that the Super Bowl was in Tampa, and (B) that our team won the game,” Torres said. “Because now, that allows us to sell more product for an extended period of time. We’re not just dependent on fans that travel to come watch the Super Bowl. every single person that is in Tampa that happens to be a Bucs fan, it’s an equal playing field for us. That’s the coolest thing about it.”
During the build-up to this year’s National Football League championship at Raymond James Stadium, local business owners had feared the worst about what a pandemic Super Bowl might cost them. But as jubilant Bucs fans hit the streets before and after the team’s 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the picture looked — and certainly felt — a lot rosier.
“I can tell you the reality has surpassed expectations,” said Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada. “The media exposure is just priceless. If you go out there and look at media impressions that have to do with Tampa Bay or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, being Super Bowl champions obviously has an impact that’s priceless. That’s media exposure we are not paying for. Those constant mentions bode well for the entire region.”
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said that while it was disappointing to see so many revelers out and about without face masks, she knew the influx of fans made an economic difference.
“Overall, our businesses understood the significance of it,” she said. “This was a boost for them to be able to hold this event and to do it safely. It helped out our local businesses, in addition to putting us on the worldwide stage.”
Visit St. Petersburg Pinellas CEO Steve Hayes spent his Super Bowl Sunday channel-surfing ahead of the game. He landed on ESPN to see a broadcast from the TradeWinds resort in St. Pete Beach. The scene was all sand, water and palm trees, he said, taunting cold northern viewers. And the Bucs’ win? Hayes expects it to pay dividends, putting the region top-of-mind as people facing pandemic fatigue start to look back into traveling.
In the near term, leaders are busy tabulating how the region made out. Going into Super Bowl week, hotel occupancy rates for the month of January were at about 55 percent, according to industry analyst STR, Inc. Corrada said he expects the average for last week to at least be in the 70-percent range, with the average revenue per room coming in higher than it has been throughout the pandemic.
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Once that data is available in the coming weeks, Corrada said, the tourism bureau will be able to extrapolate a better estimate of the Super Bowl’s overall economic impact.
“The occupancy for January is the highest we’ve seen (during the pandemic),” he said. “Anything above that is going to be an improvement for sure.”
Local business owners who had tempered their expectations for the weekend did see a bit more action than expected. Torres said that despite being “deprived” of the normal Super Bowl windfall, it ended up being more than solid, especially in high-traffic areas. His local Blind Tiger Cafe coffee chain had a lucrative Saturday at its stand in downtown Tampa’s Sparkman Wharf.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” he said. “I think that we saw that there was going to be some sort of activity, but that it was going to be a little less. But I didn’t think we were going to have the amount of people that we saw in Ybor City, at the stadium, or anything like that.”
Michael Kilgore, a spokesman for the Columbia Restaurant Group, said that in the days leading up to the game, both curbside takeout and foot traffic were up from the previous month — especially at Ulele, just up the road from a host of official NFL-sanctioned activity along the Hillsborough River.
“We never expected to equal our business during Tampa’s 2009 Super Bowl in total covers or dollars,” Kilgore said. “But that’s okay. The Tampa Bay area was on the world stage, and we looked terrific. Who wouldn’t want to come here after four days of tourism pictures showing a postcard paradise?”
Julie Currie, the owner of Bake’n Babes in Tampa’s Armature Works, said her company got a big boost from CBS, which broadcast live from the food hall and featured her bakery in a national segment.
“Business was good, and we were prepared for how busy we were,” she said.
The spoils were less bountiful for some spots just off the beaten path.
In Ybor City, where late-night crowds packed Seventh Avenue, Tampa Bay Brewing Company was relatively quiet until Super Bowl Sunday, when fans looking for a spot to watch the game boosted business by about $4,000 — the brewery’s best Sunday of the pandemic, said general manager Kevin Ferlita. The rest of the weekend, business was just about normal.
“As you were leaving here Friday and Saturday night, the influx of vehicles was ridiculous,” Ferlita said. “It was definitely a positive being in town, but we just didn’t get the direct traffic.”
Bern’s Steak House, normally one of Tampa’s top spots for celebrity-spotting during major events, was only operating at 70 percent of its normal capacity, but its reservations were full all weekend, said a spokeswoman.
Across the street at the Epicurean Hotel, it almost felt like “the olden days,” joked Joe Collier, the CEO of the hotel’s operating group, Mainsail Lodging and Development. By that, he meant pre-pandemic.
The Epicurean was booked solid with vaccinated health care workers the NFL sponsored. Workers still abided by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, as did guests, but Collier said his workers were able to relax knowing their risk to exposure over the busy week was lower than usual.
“We were used to the hotel having a lot of energy,” Collier said.
For a weekend, they had it back.
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Tampa Bay Times Super Bowl 55 coverage
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FROM THE GAME: 55 observations on attending the Super Bowl in Tampa
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