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So where's the city called Tampa Bay?

There isn't one, Super Bowl visitors. The name is just a moniker adopted by area business leaders as a marketing ploy.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001


TAMPA -- When thousands of visitors arrive this week for the big game, they'll be looking for a place called Tampa Bay.

But a check of the map will show the appellation attached to just one thing: an oddly-shaped body of water. Not so much as a spit of land lays claim to the name Tampa Bay.

Sure, there is that neatly boundaried city called Tampa. But Tampa Bay? No such thing, by cartographers' measure.

Don't tell that to the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"Tampa Bay may be a body of water," said Vicki Isley, the Bureau's vice president of marketing and communication. "But it's also the body of water that connects the area."

And as such, Isley and other marketers of the area insist, Tampa Bay is very much a defineable place, visitable without a boat.

And did they mention? A remarkable marketing ploy.

"The "Bay' word connotes water and being on the water is a very helpful thing in marketing," Isley said.

Paul Catoe, the bureau's president and CEO, put it this way: "Tampa has a long and rich tradition as a city. But including it in Tampa Bay has tied it together with St. Petersburg, with the beaches. That means we are able to market the whole area, not just one part of it."

Conventional wisdom posits that Tampa Bay constitutes the cities of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater. In more official circles, counties tend to make up the region. The Tampa Bay Economic Development Partnership, for example, considers Tampa Bay the counties of Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota, Hernando and Manatee.

Locals date the moniker's attachment to the region to 1974, when business leaders began bandying about the name in the hope that the offer of a market larger than just Tampa or St. Petersburg would prove alluring to the NFL.

"You will not find one reference to this being called Tampa Bay until it was awarded the NFL franchise in 1974," said Leonard Levy, the president of Hillsboro Printing Co. and a longtime area sports booster.

The team was named the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, becoming one of the rare NFL teams to be named after a region, rather than a city.

"When you're competing for anything like a sports franchise or big business, the overall size of your metropolitan area says whether you are a big time market or not," said Chris Harwell, the chairman and CEO of Paradigm/Lord & Lasker, an advertising agency in Tampa. "By using Tampa Bay, we have been able to image this market as a region and not just a city."

Cementing the concept of Tampa Bay, though, took work and time.

In 1980, government officials threatened to split Tampa and St. Petersburg into separate metropolitan business areas. The separation, business leaders worried, could cost advertising revenue and perhaps federal funding for the region.

Legendary ad man Louis Benito swooped in, offering the government's chief statistician an early morning plane ride to observe the surge of commuters on the bridges connecting the cities, a key factor used by the government in determining whether to link cities. The helicopter ride proved convincing and St. Petersburg and Tampa remained one metropolitan area.

In the 1990s, the addition of sports franchises like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, heightened national awareness of the region's new name and spurred business and others to jump on the bandwagon.

Busch Gardens added Tampa Bay to its name in 1993. In October, the Convention and Visitors Bureau tacked Tampa Bay onto its front.

"Why did we change our name? Because we wanted to ride the wave of publicity that all our sports franchises get," said Catoe, the president and CEO of the bureau. "Research revealed that people weren't coming here because of the name Hillsborough County."

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