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Saint Leo sees glory in Bucs

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers choose this tiny burg as their summer training camp, local leaders envision financial heaven.

By JENNIFER GOLDBLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002


SAINT LEO -- What's a dateline worth?

That question became the talk of this town of 595 as word spread that Saint Leo University could be the future home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' summer training camp.

And the answer, according to local marketing execs: It's worth a lot.

"There's some inherent value in (SAINT LEO) just being the first word you're going to read, and in type that will draw the eye," said Leanne Hand, senior vice president of West Wayne, a Tampa-based marketing firm.

SAINT LEO would be the first words of every story about the Bucs camp distributed by the Associated Press -- in a year in which the new coach Jon Gruden will draw attention from here to Oakland. SAINT LEO would appear in Sports Illustrated and be mentioned on ESPN.

"It's obviously going to have a repetition factor working on its behalf," Hand said. "I don't know that there's some formula, but if you take into consideration all those things, most people agree that's very valuable."

Take Mankato, Minn., a city of 31,000, about 75 minutes south of the twin cities, home of the Minnesota Vikings' summer home.

"Obviously, if ESPN is doing a training camp report, it's good," said David Schooff, president of the Mankato Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The practices draw anywhere from 5,000 to 8,000 people each day, and Schooff tries to get fans to stick around to bike and shop. (After all, Mankato in 1997 was voted 14th best micropolitan city to live in.)

Then there's Suwanee, Ga., the former home of the Atlanta Falcons. Suwanee is a town of 9,000 about 35 miles north of Atlanta. The Falcons moved to Greenville, S.C., a few years ago, but Suwanee City Manager Hardin Watkins recalls the time fondly.

"They would say: 'Here we are at Suwanee, and here's what's going on," he said. "Just a mention on TV and in the national and local papers was a key for us."

While the Falcons were there, community pride swelled. Residents could brag about living in Suwanee -- particularly when the Falcons went to the Super Bowl in 1999.

Suwanee's police force loved working game security. They loved it so much that their patrol cars and station were emblazoned with Falcons.

A giant football helmet rose from the Interstate exit for Suwanee, creating the town's landmark.

The town of SAINT LEO hasn't ordered up the billboard-sized skull and cross-swords for Exit 59 of Interstate 75 just yet.

But the idea of having 100 sweaty athletes and staff, plus as many as 5,000 fans descending on SAINT LEO, chowing down at local restaurants and buying gas at local stations, has the entire area atwitter.

Donna Frello, general manager of Dade City's Flying J Trucking Plaza, offered to host practice in her parking lot.

"We'll hook 'em up," she promised.

Maybe the Bucs should consider the offer. At the Flying J, players could shower, do laundry, watch movies, saddle up to an all-day buffet, play Ms. Pac-Man, surf the Internet, get haircuts and buy anything from a leather jacket and portable pizza oven to the One-Minute Bible For Men or peel-off 'Nauty Girl' truck decals.

"We can handle 'em," she said.

Over at the San Ann Market, the staff was so excited it started brainstorming about Buc-themed sandwiches.

"We're looking forward to seeing that happen," said Clay Coffman owner of the sandwich shop and market.

The institutions in the Bucs' most direct path are the Saint Leo Abbey and the Holy Name Monastery.

Aside from increased traffic, Mother Superior Mary Clare Neuhofer has only one concern.

"Think it'll make the Bucs play any better?"

Turns out the Monastery's 23 sisters are no strangers to football.

"Religiously, every Super Bowl we have a party," said Neuhofer. "But half of us have to keep asking who's playing and who's not. Not that we're big sports fans, but I kind of keep up with what's going on."

So short of tailgaters in the front yard and roaring crowds disrupting prayer, she's pretty pumped up about the whole idea.

"I think it might be really good for the university," she said. "More power to 'em."

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