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Rays bite into official burger

LOUIS HAU
Published February 14, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Along with an official team jersey, jacket and cap, Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans soon will be able to buy the official half-pound double cheeseburger.

On Friday, the Rays unveiled a multiyear sponsorship deal with Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. of Tampa.

The two companies declined to specify the value or the length of the pact, but John Browne, Rays vice president of marketing, said the Checkers deal leaves the Rays "already pacing well ahead of last year" in terms of sponsorship dollars.

Browne said the Rays also are in talks to renew their sponsorship deal with SunTrust Banks Inc. of Atlanta, which recently expired. The team expects to announce a new sponsorship deal with either SunTrust or another bank in about three weeks, he said.

Checkers is negotiating the renewal of its sponsorships with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons and has other sponsorships in place with the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400, said Richard Turer, Checkers vice president of marketing. In the past, the company has sponsored the St. Louis Rams and the New Orleans Saints.

Checkers president and chief executive officer Keith Sirois vowed that his company will be an active and highly visible sponsor of the Rays.

"When we do these things, we don't do them halfway," Sirois said. "We'll participate fully."

In addition to getting bragging rights as the "official burger" of the Rays, Checkers will put up advertising placards at Progress Energy Park, the team's spring training facility, and at Tropicana Field, including one behind home plate.

Checkers also will open a location in the Trop's right-field concession stands and take over food service in the Bullpen Cafe behind the Rays' right-field bullpen.

Browne said other concession stands at the Trop will continue to sell generic hamburgers as they have in the past.

Checkers plans to launch a TV and radio advertising campaign next month to tout its Rays sponsorship.

Starting next month, the burger chain will offer a new "Big Ray Combo" meal comprising a half-pound double cheeseburger, a large order of french fries and a 42-ounce soft drink in a plastic cup emblazoned with the Rays and Checkers logos. The combo meals will be available at Checkers' 72 Tampa Bay area locations.

Checkers will hand out free thermal mugs before the start of the Rays' home opener against the New York Yankees on April 6.

In addition to any cash they receive out of the deal, the Rays probably are hoping Checkers serves as a good-luck charm: According to Turer, every professional sports team that Checkers has sponsored in the past five years has gone to the playoffs.

- Louis Hau can be reached at hau@sptimes.com or 813226-3404.

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