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Tickets are coveted corporate perk

Firms that are Bucs' partners use Super Bowl tickets to reward employees and clients.

By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2003

Everyone has a little favor to ask of Raymond James' Larry Silver.

Actually, it would be sort of a super favor.

As Tampa Bay area corporations are counting heads and making arrangements to see the Tampa Bay Bucs play in Super Bowl XXXVII in San Diego, important decisions are being made: who gets a ticket and who doesn't.

And some serious lobbying is under way.

"It's great to talk to somebody who's not asking for a ticket," said Silver, spokesman for Raymond James Financial Inc. in St. Petersburg. The company is a conspicuous target for people wanting tickets because its name is on the Bucs' home stadium.

Tampa Bay area companies that have tickets are parceling them out judiciously. Some are being handed out to top executives. Others are being used to woo clients. A few are going to particularly productive employees.

Though Silver wouldn't say how many Super Bowl tickets Raymond James had, a copy of the stadium naming rights agreement says the Bucs will make 10 tickets available to the company.

Tom James, Raymond James' chief executive, will be going. So will Silver. Most of their tickets, Silver said, will go to institutional and investment banking clients.

And will they be taking the corporate jet?

"We don't have a corporate jet," he said. "I'm bumming a ride off the Bucs."

Several of the Bucs' Pewter Partners, the team's big-ticket sponsors, said they had access to a limited number of seats on a plane the team has chartered to take sponsors to San Diego today.

A little more than half of the 13 people Bank of America is sending will be on the charter, said Mitch Lubitz, bank spokesman.

Steve Raney, president of the bank's Hillsborough County operation, and Tim Laney of Jacksonville, president of the Florida operation, will take five commercial clients from the bay area on the charter. Another five clients who are getting tickets will make the trip on commercial flights, Lubitz said.

How did Bank of America choose among the many who would like to go?

"We certainly wanted to take a look at how we could leverage that with our customers and clients," Lubitz said. "We focused on entertaining and recognizing key clients and customers."

The bank will take care of everything, Lubitz said, food, hotel and air travel. Also going is Cathy Bessant, the bank's former Florida president who had been based in Tampa. She now works at the corporate headquarters in Charlotte, N.C., as the megabank's corporate marketing and communications chief.

Not everyone in bay area business is taking advantage of the event. Jabil Circuit Inc. of St. Petersburg is not sending anyone to the Super Bowl or hosting any events there, said Lisa Allison, marketing communications manager.

And Northern Trust's local operation is not taking anyone, said Cary Putrino, Tampa Bay area president for the bank, which is known for lavishing attention on well-heeled account-holders.

"We are not entertaining any clients at the Super Bowl," Putrino said. "I've received calls from clients inquiring about tickets, but we do not have access to any."

Besides, Putrino said, the event is prohibitively expensive when you add up tickets, airfare and hotel.

Verizon Wireless, a Pewter Partner, said long before the Bucs won the NFC title corporate executives had decided to use the company's tickets to reward the most productive employees.

The tickets are a "valuable tool" in the company's tool box, spokesman Chuck Hamby said.

"What we do is we run sales contests during the year with our retail operation," he said. "That's how we use them, as sales recognition, employee recognition."

The wireless company's Florida president, Mike Lanman, is not going, Hamby said.

"I'm sure he would love to go, but he understands," Hamby said. "Actually, we'll have a pair of executives going to host our sales winners."

Byron Wolford, a 24-year-old Verizon Wireless salesman from Clearwater, won a pair of Super Bowl tickets. He was a top producer in the state for seven months in 2002 and won the Super Bowl tickets in a drawing among top sales staff.

"I'm on cloud nine, pretty much," he said. "When they read that ticket number, whew. I had to go outside. I almost collapsed. It's just going to be crazy."

Understanding fully the value of his tickets, Wolford has chosen to take someone very special: his boss.

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