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Well, it does seem obvious ...

The Florida Aquarium's chief reaches out to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays with ideas for a joint marketing deal.

Published January 27, 2006

The idea for a joint marketing deal with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays seemed stunningly obvious to Florida Aquarium chief executive Thom Stork.

"They've got a sports franchise named the Rays, and we've got an institution that features rays," said Stork, a former marketing executive for Busch Gardens and Sea World. "It's a natural fit."

For three years, his pitch to the Rays fell on deaf ears. Then a couple of months ago, the aquarium's husbandry director told Stork that the team, under new management, was asking for help to build a touch tank with real rays inside Tropicana Field.

The Rays will decide on the 10,000-gallon, saltwater tank in a week or two, team president Matt Silverman said. If it's a go, they hope to have the attraction up and running on the right-centerfield patio by July.

New management already has pledged to repaint Tropicana Field, spruce up the restrooms, provide free parking and let fans bring their own food.

"We're trying to change the perception of Tropicana Field and the fan experience ... to be friendlier and more inviting," Silverman said after attending a Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau lunch in Tampa on Thursday.

Designed with clear acrylic walls so the rays would be visible from the playing field, the tank would be a signature element of the Trop like the outfield swimming pool is for Chase Field in Arizona, home of the Diamondbacks, he said.

While the Rays are eager to fill more seats with fans at Tropicana Field, the team is especially keen on encouraging a somewhat reluctant Tampa community to cross the bay for home games in St. Petersburg. Silverman got a warm welcome for reaching out to Tampa tourism leaders.

Marketers for the Rays and aquarium see the project as the first step in jointly promoting their businesses, Stork said.

The aquarium could sell Rays tickets and vice versa. Players could make appearances at the attraction and aquarium characters could roam Tropicana Field.

Why stop there? Stork asks. How about giving away a family membership whenever a home run plops into the ray tank? Or have groundskeepers dance the Stingray Shuffle during the seventh-inning stretch?

"It's so refreshing to have a group of folks who are so marketing-minded and want to get it done right," Stork said.

[Last modified January 27, 2006, 01:30:05]

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