In these days of coronavirus quarantine, we all long for a personal connection.
So we FaceTime and hope no one wanders into the background who isn’t, um, camera-ready. We go live on Facebook and Instagram. We communicate via Skype and Microsoft Teams, if we can remember how to log in. We Zoom, gambling we’re not hacked.
And, apparently, we Cameo.
Cameo is a videogram service through which you pay athletes and celebrities to record and send short, personalized greetings to whomever you choose; birthdays, anniversaries and fantasy sports wins/losses seem to be the most popular topics. And bookings have skyrocketed more than 200 percent over the past month.
More talent — a term used loosely in some cases — is signing up daily to participate in the service, with more than 30,000 personalities onboard, the company says. Overall, more than 700,000 videos have been ordered, at an average price of $60.
Between current and former Bucs, Lightning and Rays players, locals who play elsewhere in those or other sports, and a handful of past and present TV talkers, Cameo has more than 50 sports celebrities with Tampa Bay-area connections from which to choose.
And with prices running from $5 for Rays minor-leaguer Joey Roach to $200 for Bucs Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and Tampa-born Mets slugger Pete Alonso, you want to choose how to spend your Cameo coin wisely. (The talent gets 75 percent of the fee. Cameo gets the rest.)
After watching up to six of the publicly available videos (others can be kept private) from just about all the Tampa Bay options, here is our guide:
Current Bolts, Bucs, Rays
The choices are somewhat limited if we go strictly by active rosters, but a few good ones are available. Bucs linebacker Devin White ($50) spreads plenty of joy, positivity and blessings from the front seat of his truck, talks a little LSU trash to a Gators fan, drops in his catch phrase, “Get Live,” and promises his current team “is about to do big things."
Rays designated hitter Jose Martinez ($35), who must have missed the memo on not having a bright light behind his head, is somewhat short but sweet in his congratulations. Lightning center Blake Coleman ($69) gets points for honesty in his introduction, saying he signed up to “have a little bit of fun with this Cameo thing and kill some time in what feels like forever during this quarantine.”
After White, the next-best choice would be Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow ($60), though he’s listed as “temporarily unavailable." Too bad, given his pitch: “I’m here for all of your shoutout needs, whether it be someone special or someone not so special. I’ll do whatever. As long as it’s not weird. Don’t be weird!" Though in three of Glasnow’s six posted videos, he is shirtless.
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Best bet: White, unless Tom Brady buys in
Sapp ($200) should be in his glory here, right, the “QB Killa” unleashing that big personality and bigger smile? He sells it well but keeps it short; four of his six posted videos were under 20 seconds. Plus, he recorded while riding in a boat, driving his truck and traveling through Europe.
Fellow Bucs Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks ($80, up from $60) is a popular choice, with more than 100 reviews (Cameo doesn’t reveal individual sale numbers). As you’d expect, he’s positive and earnest. Plus, he has stayed current, referencing the Bucs’ recent additions of Brady and Rob Gronkowski in sharing his hope the team turns things around.
Simeon Rice ($75) was a colorful quote machine while with the Bucs and makes a promising pitch in offering “some mental get-right," but he disappoints on camera. Maybe, like Jimmy Fallon these days, he needs an audience to be funny.
Ex-Ray Johnny Damon ($100) is entertaining between his shaggy quarantine hair and use of his Red Sox and Yankees World Series rings as props. Fred McGriff ($100) is quietly funny and gets props for referencing himself not only as the “Crime Dog” but also for his role in the classic Tom Emanski baseball instructional videos. He is fundamentally sound in his Cameos.
Tampa’s Dwight Gooden ($70) understandably draws heavily on his Mets stardom and breaks off a few jokes. Jose Canseco ($100) goes for the visual splash, wearing a tank top, and offers a virtual forearm bash. But there are complaints that his videos are too short — kind of like some of his at-bats. Probably the most interesting thing he says in his intro is that his daughter, Josie, whose age he isn’t sure of, is now “a Victoria’s Secret supermodel."
Best bet: Brooks, though Damon is worth a look
Some surprises are available, such as Matt Garza ($25), who didn’t seem to like to talk much when he pitched for the Rays but is now willing to show “what it’s like to be me outside of baseball." There’s also Luc Snuggerud ($15), who lists himself with the Lightning but played just two games for their Syracuse team in the American Hockey League and none in the NHL, and Farrington Huguenin ($15), who is described as a Buc but never played in a game for them.
Goalie Peter Budaj ($20) played in only 15 games for the Lightning over a little more than a season, but his Cameos are good, weaving in some “stay safe during these crazy times.” Among the former Bucs, linebacker Cameron Lynch ($25) does a solid job with short but sincere messages. Will Allen ($50) could create a buzz, offering to discuss medical marijuana among his topics.
But the ex-Rays are the best. Jonny Gomes ($30) is classic Gomes, straight to the point and mostly without his usual “not safe for work” warning needed. Logan Morrison ($20) is a step down in delivery, though he shows off his coordination by completing one video while walking to his SUV and getting behind the wheel. He is shirtless in others.
Ozzie Guillen ($50), looking comfy and well-fed during the quarantine, has plenty to say. But if you want energy and passion, there’s no question Carlos Pena ($75) is your man. And if you’ve watched him as an MLB Network analyst, seen his interviews as a player or talked to him in person, that’s no surprise.
Best bet: Gomes is a good deal, but go with Pena.
Ten-year NBA veteran Marreese Speights ($20), who played last in China, comes up big for a low fee, dropping in a few “aka Mo Buckets," averaging a minute-plus in personalizing his delivery. NASCAR driver Aric Almirola ($29) is also good, changing lanes to add some parenting advice and weaving in thanks to fans for supporting him. Jessica Warren ($20) is just as poised on Cameo as she was leading FSU to a softball national championship.
Alonso ($200) is only 25 but seems to do everything well, coming across as sincere, personable, thoughtful and appreciative. The price is steep, but a) he’s going to rope in a lot of New Yorkers and b) he donates part of the proceeds to his Homers for Heroes foundation, which helps “everyday heroes” of the coronavirus pandemic.
Seminole native Brett Phillips ($30), a Royals outfielder, is genuine, but he needs to incorporate his laugh — so oddly entertaining it has YouTube videos dedicated to it — to his Cameo repertoire. Maybe it’s an add-on, like guacamole at Chipotle.
Retired NFL kicker and Jesuit alum Jay Feely ($25) is smooth, his media training working well. From the elder statesman category, Tampa-born first baseman Steve Garvey ($100) delivers eloquently, and even at 71 and in quarantine, his hair is still amazing.
Best bet: Speights is a bargain, but Alonso is a bigger deal.
20 other big names on Cameo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, $500
Troy Aikman, $600
Terry Bradshaw, $400
Dick Butkus, $225
John Daly, $750
Brett Favre, $400
Mia Hamm, $125
Bobby Hull, $175
Bo Jackson, $400
Reggie Jackson, $200
Caitlyn Jenner, $2,500
Nancy Kerrigan, $50
Ray Lewis, $300
Pedro Martinez, $500
Sean Payton, $500
Richard Petty, $250
Pete Rose, $150
Mariano Rivera, $500
Curt Schilling, $100
Mike Tyson, $500
People we’d pay to see on Cameo
Some we’d like to see in this format just because of how much they like to talk. Others, well, how about a certain coach grimacing through, “On to the next birthday ... ”?