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Tampa hospitality, development leaders say Covid could dampen but not stop the economic impact of Super Bowl LV

Margie Manning



Photo credit: City of Tampa

There are still a lot of unknowns about Super Bowl LV, scheduled to be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, including how many people will be sitting in the stands at kickoff on Sunday, Feb. 7.

“We don’t know what capacity will be yet,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission and president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee. “We know the numbers will continue to evolve. We will continue to work with the NFL … and with local public health and government officials to determine what capacity will be.”

Rob Higgins

Higgins was one of several panelists this week at an online discussion sponsored by the Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay on the real estate and economic opportunity of the Super Bowl and other high-profile events. Those events bring visitors who spend big at hotels and at restaurants and other local firms, so the business community is watching the numbers closely.

The Covid-19 pandemic already has left a mark on the 2021 Super Bowl. Anheuser-Busch InBev, one of the NFL’s most visible sponsors, has decided not to host the 600 people it usually brings to the game each year, according to an Oct. 23 report on Yahoo Sports. ESPN executives have been told not to plan for travel or hospitality for the game, Sportico reported on Oct. 30. Bridgestone scrapped its hospitality plans as well, Sports Business Daily said earlier this week.

But big events like the Super Bowl have more than just an economic impact on the area. They also have a social impact, Higgins said. This year, the Super Bowl LV Host Committee and the National Football League will make a $2 million investment, dubbed Forever 55, that will focus on ending systemic injustice, as well as addressing early childhood education, food insecurity, underserved families, health and wellness, and sustainability.

There’s also a marketing aspect to the event. Super Bowl traditionally draws 5,000 to 6,000 media participants, although Higgins is unsure how many will attend this year.

He’s been working with major broadcast networks for the last 18 months to identify set locations.

“It’s more than just the game. There’s a ton of pre-game shows, post-game shows. The eyes of the world are upon us, so we want to leverage that media value,” he said.

Marketing “tells the world who we are,” said Maryann Ferenc, chair of the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Mise En Place Hospitality group.

Maryann Ferenc

While attendance at Super Bowl LV may be down, the story about the Tampa area will still come through in news stories on TV and online, she said.

“That changes two things. It changes how we think about ourselves. These things are always an uplift for a community and our self-esteem and that’s huge,” Ferenc said. “Also, who we are and what we can do. A company or individual will look back and say, ‘Tampa Bay. Wow.’ And how they see us, why they might come here, what they might bring here, changes because of that marketing.”

At an earlier Super Bowl in  Tampa, Taste of the NFL raised and donated enough money to save a local food bank, Ferenc said. Super Bowls and other big events, such as the 2012 Republican National Convention, also have led to some of the best days Mise En Place and other small businesses have ever had in terms of sales, she said.

“The opportunity to have those kinds of dollars being spent in your community in a period of time – and because there’s so much of it many can join in and prosper from it – the economic impact for small business is real,” Ferenc said.

The new 525-room Water Street Tampa JW Marriott as well as the Marriott Water Street will be the headquarters hotels for the Super Bowl, said Ron McAnaugh, general manager. The hotels will house a lot of NFL staff, some owners and other groups associated with the Super Bowl. The hotels also will host some events.

“With what’s going on we’re not exactly sure what events we’ll have and what they will look like. The NFL is being cautious in their approach to gathering, how many people they will let us put into a meeting space at one time. But we still think it’s a great opportunity to showcase the new hotel and Water Street to the nation,” he said. “Yes, there will be less people in the stands but it will still be on millions of TVs across the world, and that’s the kind of exposure that is priceless.”

They are among the growing number of hotels in downtown Tampa, both newly built and under construction, said Rob Rosner, director of economic opportunity for the city of Tampa. In addition, the Tampa Convention Center is being expanded by 18,000 square feet and upgraded.

“Before Covid hit, we were backlogged for three years for events. That’s why there’s the demand for more space in Ron’s JW Marriott,” he said.

Big events like the Super Bowl tend to have a far-reaching and long-lasting regional impact, said Lou Plasencia, CEO of  The Plasencia Group, a Tampa-based hospitality sales and consulting firm. At times, the impact has stretched as far east as Orlando, but that’s changed with more hotels in downtown Tampa that can accommodate a lot more guests in close proximity to the headquarters hotels.

Still, Pinellas County, as well as Pasco County to the north, Polk County to the east, and Manatee and Sarasota counties to the south, will get both visitors and media attention, he said.

“If Ron McAnaugh’s hotels are full, the property taxes that his owner are assessed go out into the community. You get sales tax income that flows back into the community. The server at Maryann’s restaurant who gets a great tip can now take that gratuity and hire a plumber to renovate their bathroom or buy a new car,” Plascencia said. “It’s outside dollars coming into this community that are spent here and left here in multiple ways.”

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