Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, thanks in large part to the magic touch of quarterback Tom Brady, will be the first team ever to play a Super Bowl on its home field this Sunday when the Bucs host the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium.

It's a dream come true for Bucs fans. But likely less so for city coffers.

With the pandemic comes limited attendance, fewer parties, a reduced media contingent and a diminished corporate presence. As a result, Super Bowl LV won't come close to the economic impact of last year's event in Miami, officially estimated at $572 million.

Throw in the fact that a local team is playing in the game for the first time, meaning less out-of-town visitors spending money in the city and surrounding bay area, and you're looking at yet another Covid casualty in the Sunshine State.

Let's take the impact of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the game first: Clearly it is going to weaken the already smallish revenue coming from out-of-town visitors. The NFL allots each of the two contesting teams 17.5% of the available tickets (the 5% of tickets usually given to the team associated with the host city has been eliminated this year).

So, right off the bat nearly one-fifth of the game tickets will be going to fans who won't be needing hotel rooms, flagging hired transportation or reserving tables at fancy restaurants the week leading up to kickoff.

Due to Covid, the NFL is limiting attendance to 22,000 spectators, but about one-third of those will be healthcare workers who will be admitted free. So, let's say 60% of fans at the game will be paying, out-of-town visitors. That compares to 88% of the 62,417 fans that attended last year's game, according to sponsors in Miami.

Tampa is no stranger to hosting a Super Bowl under adverse conditions. The 2009 game was also one of the weakest economically, played during the depths of the Great Recession; the accounting firm PwC estimated the direct spending for that one at $150 million, not including a secondary spending multiplier. (A spokesman for PwC said given the uncertainty surrounding COVID and the Super Bowl it would not issue a projection this year of spending generated by the game.)

Want more bad news for the city? This will be the first one that fails to sell out since the first one -- and that wasn't even called the Super Bowl at the time. The very first one in 1967 -- which went by the long-winded, comparatively humdrum name of the AFL-NFL World Championship Game -- drew 61,946 fans to the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the mighty Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, Incidentally, ticket prices for that one averaged about $12 ($92 in current dollars).

That, of course, was long before the Super Bowl became an event for high rollers and corporate incentive travel. There will be a lot less of that this year. Anheuser-Busch InBev, ESPN and Bridgestone are among the names that have skipped or reduced participation.

Still, the city will try to make the most of it. Some events from Super Bowls past have been preserved, including the Super Bowl Experience, a four-day "interactive football theme park" staged along the downtown Tampa Riverwalk. Visitors can virtually meet current and past NFL stars, shop for souvenirs, measure their 40-yard dash and vertical jump skills, take photos with the Vince Lombardi Trophy and see a display of all 54 Super Bowl rings. Pandemic rules will be in place to keep things safe.

Other events include an inspirational show featuring former Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, a waterfront laser light show on Friday and Saturday night and a celebrity flag football game in downtown Clearwater.

Hotels will likely be occupied, if not for as many days or at the inflated room rates of typical Super Bowls. Bob Morrison, executive director of Hillsborough County Hotel & Motel Association, estimated that area hotels will be 70% to 75% full Thursday to Sunday.

Local organizers are trying to put on their best game face. "We're no strangers to hosting during hard times," Rob Higgins, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee said in a recent television interview. "It's at a time when we really need it most."

The Chiefs also made the Super Bowl a year ago, and Higgins said he takes heart from the fact that 35% of the visitors at Super Bowl LIV were from the Kansas City area, double the team's official ticket allotment.

"The Chiefs always bring a lot of people," Higgins said. "We saw that in Miami last year."


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