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Bucs

Amid the fun, tailgaters feel parking pain

By MICHAEL VAN SICKLER
Published August 24, 2003

[Times photo: Jennifer Sens]
Eric Walker, left, and Danny Bethel enjoy themselves at this season's first home tailgate party.

TAMPA - Chuck Tudor has cheered for the Buccaneers for 27 years, so he knows how much patience it takes to root for a loser.

On Saturday, in the Bucs' first home game after winning the Super Bowl, Tudor learned it takes something else to cheer for champions.

More money.

"Bottom line is, we have a world champion, and they're going to make us pay for it," said Tudor, 43, of Brandon. "That's just the way it is."

During this season's first home tailgate party, Tudor and other fans forked over $20 to park their cars at the Tampa Bay Center parking lot - double what it cost last season.

The 100 percent increase comes after the mall and its lot across from Raymond James Stadium was purchased for $22.8-million last December by a company run by members of the Glazer family, which owns the Bucs.

Many tailgaters didn't particularly mind getting charged extra to set up tents, gas grills and foldable chairs.

"There's an aura, everyone's on a high," said Brent Ruiz, 32, of Hernando County, as he watched over the chicken, hot dogs and hamburger meat simmering on a charcoal grill. "Paying that much for parking seemed a little steep, but it's worth it."

But other fans said they felt exploited.

Tudor spends $1,200 a year for season tickets and has a wardrobe full of Bucs merchandise. So when it comes to supporting his team, he's no freeloader.

Still, he wasn't exactly thrilled about paying twice as much to park his car for a few hours.

"The Glazers are taking advantage of team loyalty," Tudor said. "I'm coming to see my team no matter what. And they know that. They're going to stick the fans with paying for this land, just like they did with the stadium."

Buccaneers spokesman Jeff Kamis said the team's management doesn't consider the new parking fees an increase.

"I'm not familiar with what happened before," Kamis said. "We don't see it as an increase because it's the same price as the other lots we administer."

But the new fees sure looked like an increase to tailgaters.

Dan Hansen, who works for ProfessionalTailgaters.com, a Sarasota company that hawks partyware at NFL games, said he paid $40 to park his vehicles at the Tampa Bay Center parking lot last year. On Saturday, he paid $80.

"It's embarrassing the Bucs do this after winning the Super Bowl," Hansen said. "It's like a shot in the face."

Hansen and several fans said the lot is usually packed four hours before game time, with few available spaces. On Saturday, however, the lot was only half full by 4 p.m.

Some fans took advantage by flinging footballs along empty stretches of asphalt.

Many fans said the shortage of tailgaters might be because the game was a preseason contest.

But the number of drivers who turned away from the lot after being told about the $20 parking fee suggested otherwise.

"I'm dumbfounded by the lack of tailgaters right now," said Christine Orht, who drove from Winter Haven to attend the game. "It's not looking too good."

Pete Mas has been coming to tailgate at the Tampa Bay Center for three years. But the new price of parking is testing his loyalty.

"I understand $10," said Mas, 32, of Brandon. "You have to maintain the facility and pick up after the game. Fine. But $20? C'mon. In eight games, that comes to $160. If it goes up any more than $20, I won't pay it."

Finding somewhere else to park, however, could prove difficult.

"When you get down here, you really don't have much of a choice," Mas said. "You can park at people's houses, if they let you. We're kind of held hostage here. They know we'll end up paying it."

- Michael Van Sickler can be reached at 813 269-5312 or mvansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 24, 2003, 01:47:21]


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