Editor’s note: This story is part of “A Decade Defined By," a series that examines how Tampa Bay has changed in the past decade. We will publish one story a day until Dec. 31. Read the whole package here.
As a major sports market, Tampa Bay may be the ultimate hook-up partner.
Need a last-minute replacement for a Super Bowl site? Tampa is available. Kicking off a new College Football Playoff series? Call 1-800-LuvTampa. Women’s Final Four? NHL All-Star Game? The NCAA’s Frozen Four? We’re here, and we’re ready to party.
Yet when it comes to long-term relationships, we’re not nearly so desirable.
Tampa Bay is home to one of the best-run baseball teams in existence, and we seem ready to chase the Rays out of town. The Buccaneers have gone from sellouts and season-ticket waiting lists to having some of the smallest crowds in the NFL.
This is our reputation nationally, and it has been for a while. The past decade has just reinforced it.
Tampa Bay is as attractive as ever when it comes to one-off events. When Los Angeles fell behind on the construction schedule for a new football stadium a couple of years ago, the NFL asked Tampa if it could step up and host Super Bowl LV in February of 2021. When ESPN was looking for a site for a major NCAA softball tournament, it turned to Clearwater. The women’s Final Four has been at Amalie Arena three times in the past 12 years. Even Wrestlemania found its way here.
The reasons are pretty obvious. Good weather, plenty of tourist attractions and a robust service industry.
And, in a way, those are some of the same reasons Tampa Bay struggles to meet expectations as a permanent home to sports franchises. The economy is tourist-based, which means lower-paying jobs and fewer major corporations to buy season tickets and sponsorships.
So, yes, Tampa Bay has evolved into one of the sporting world’s premier hosts.
Just don’t count on us to buy season tickets.
Five clues to Tampa Bay’s split sports life, 2010-2020
1. The NHL All-Star Game returns to Tampa.
Instead of participating in the Winter Olympics in 2018, the league chose to have an All-Star weekend in conjunction with Tampa’s Gasparilla pirate invasion. Somehow, the city pulled off both the game and the parade, along with concerts by Fitz and the Tantrums and Kid Rock, without creating a downtown traffic and parking nightmare.
2. Tampa has its first college football national championship game.
The city has hosted college football bowl games for years, but when the sport introduced the College Football Playoff system, Tampa immediately got in line. The third-ever CFP national championship was held at Raymond James Stadium in 2017 with Clemson beating Alabama 35-31. “The energy in the entire community is awesome,’’ said Bill Hancock, executive director of the College Football Playoff.
3. The NCAA women’s Final Four returns to Tampa. Twice.
The Final Four first showed up in Tampa Bay in 2008 and was so well-received, the NCAA brought it back again in 2015 and “19. Indianapolis was the only other city to get two championships in the decade.
4. Tampa Bay rescues the Super Bowl.
The NFL was in a bind in May, 2017 when it realized construction of a new football stadium in Los Angeles had fallen behind schedule. The stadium was supposed to host the 2021 Super Bowl but was now cutting it too close for comfort. Tampa stepped up with an emergency bid, and won ownership of Super Bowl LV. Tampa will become one of four cities to host at least five Super Bowls.
5. The Rays and Bucs continue to see empty seats.
While Tampa Bay excels as a host, the Rays were last in the American League in attendance in 8 of the last 10 years. The Bucs, meanwhile, have been slowly declining in attendance. They’ve from 26th in 2015 to 30th this season.