By ANGELA MOORE
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 15, 2001
TAMPA -- Ready or not, here they come.
They are cold, pale and have pockets bulging with disposable income. Fans of the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens will come to Tampa in the next two weeks, sun-starved and ready to party.
Of the 72,000 seats available for Super Bowl XXXV in Raymond James Stadium, each team gets fewer than 13,000. But organizers hope more will make the trip to Tampa to enjoy the festivities surrounding the big event.
"The Super Bowl tends to draw fans who just want to be part of the activities," said Michael Kelly, executive director of the Super Bowl's Tampa Bay Task Force. "We're hoping to get people who just want to take in some good weather and have a great time.
"Obviously, one of the greatest things about the Super Bowl is that so many visitors come regardless (of the teams) . . . so you really can't lose."
But according to Kathleen Davis, an economist at Florida Atlantic University who has studied the economic impact of the Super Bowl on its host cities for years, certain matchups mean more money and more exposure for the host city than others.
In Tampa's case, Davis said, New York vs. Baltimore is the worst possible combination. Both cities have fans that Davis classifies as "high-end consumers," but she worries that they're just not rabid enough to come down and spend a lot of time -- and money.
"Baltimore fans may not choose to stay as long because of their closer proximity," Davis said. "I've also got to worry about the strength of their fan base. They were struggling there for a while, and they were an expansion team.
"The Giants have been there a lot, and they've been there most recently (in 1991, the last time the game was in Tampa)," Davis said. "They're higher-end than anyone else, but I don't think their fans will be as excited as Minnesota's."
But then again, in an economic atmosphere of belt-tightening, it might be best to have the teams with the most financially sound fans coming to town.
"With the exception of the die-hard fan who will skip two MasterCard payments to make the trip, the Super Bowl is made for people with discretionary income," Davis said.
In that respect, most sports pundits say it's best for Tampa that Oakland fans will stay on the other side of the continent. But having hordes of silver-and-black-painted fans with bad attitudes in town might have been fun.
"If Tampa wants to become the location for Mad Max III, then Oakland is your team," said wisecracking Rich Eisen, an anchor for ESPN's top-rated SportsCenter. "I don't know what a Ravens fan is. . . . They don't have a history yet.
"They chose their name because Edgar Allan Poe was born in Baltimore," Eisen said. "I don't know if their fans read Fall of the House of Usher at games or what. Can you see Poe putting on face paint and screaming, 'Kill 'em!' "
Billy Ray Smith, a commentator on Fox Sports Net's NFL This Morning, a Sunday morning cable show, said Tampa residents could have had a good time if Oakland and its notorious fans were in town, "just to see the freak show. . . . They look like frustrated, angry mimes."
Instead, Tampa gets the boring old Ravens.
"I guess you could root for (Ravens quarterback and ex-Buc) Trent Dilfer," Smith said. "Dilfer's worn the two ugliest uniforms in pro football -- the old Tampa Bay orange and the new Baltimore Ravens."
Ravens spokeswoman Pam Malone defended her team and its dedicated fans, whom she said stayed active even in the 13 years after the Colts left and before the Ravens came.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event for the people of Baltimore, and you can bet we're going to come down there and spend some money," Malone said, bragging that even the dome of Baltimore City Hall was lit purple in honor of the team.
Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon acted offended when it was even suggested that Vikings fans might have done more for Tampa economically than Giants fans.
"Where do New Jersians and New Yorkers go when they retire, when they want to get away from the winter cold?" he asked.
"Bingo," Hanlon said. "We're there anyway. We might as well go to the Super Bowl."
Not so good for the hotel industry, said ESPN's Eisen.
"Half of New York already has houses down there," he said.
Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly said Tampa has more to worry about than just apathetic, bored Giants fans who don't need hotel rooms: rats. Seriously.
"There are nine rats for every person now in New York City, really," Reilly said. "They'll probably try to export some of their rats down there with them."
- Staff writer Ernest Hooper contributed to this report.