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Boon from the Bowl
By JEFF HARRINGTON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001
From logo-emblazoned golf putters to imprinted chocolates, Najla Furgason sells gifts to fit every special occasion.
Well, almost every occasion.
Her reasoning? "We do a lot of repeat business. We don't want to stop and just do something for (companies) that are going to come to town and then leave."
But for every Creative Expressions, there are hundreds of Tampa Bay area businesses eager to capitalize on what could be their biggest money-making event ever.
"It will be equivalent to the whole month of December for us just that week," said Cindy Dervech, whose Tampa company, Breezin' Entertainment, books musical acts, face-painters, juggling acts and other entertainment for special events.
For more than a year, the Super Bowl Task Force has made a concerted effort to steer game promoters and partyers to local businesses, especially those owned by minorities and women.
It held several workshops educating bay area businesses on how to get involved. And it sent representatives to meetings of contractors and hoteliers, touting the benefits of going local to cater a party or refurbish rooms.
At the crux of the effort is a minority business resource guide listing 550 local companies in dozens of industries: from barricades to business services, costumes to carpentry.
As of Jan. 10, just 53 of the businesses in the guide confirmed receiving at least one Super Bowl-related contract. NFL officials did not respond to questions about the level of participation from women and minorities. But Stephanie Owens Royster, the task force's director of community opportunities, is hardly discouraged.
Compared to 1991, the last time Tampa hosted a Super Bowl, she said, there's been a "100 percent improvement" in involving local businesses.
Here's a look at some of the local companies getting a piece of the action:
National Graphic Imaging
For Martha Korman and her banner-makers at National Graphic Imaging, the best preparation for the biggest football game of the year came on a basketball court.
When the Final Four was in St. Petersburg two years ago, National Graphic Imaging honed its skills at creating banners up to 60 feet long. It also developed ties to Michael Kelly, who ran the Final Four and now is executive director of the Super Bowl Task Force.
That helped the Tampa-based company win a role creating about 100 pieces of artwork and signs that will be viewed by thousands of bay area visitors this week.
Its banners will greet fans at the Tampa International Airport and festoon the Marriott Waterside and other hotels. It created triangular-shaped signs to direct visitors to bus connections.
Most banners are in football browns and other earth colors, in sharp contrast to the bright yellow-and-blue banners National Graphic produced for the Final Four.
The company printed most banners well in advance, with one notable exception: signs saluting the Super Bowl contestants by name had to wait until the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants both steamrolled their way to playoff victories.
Espo's Food Service Corp.
When Carlos Fernandez bid to feed about 2,500 shuttle bus and limo drivers on Super Bowl Sunday, he wasn't concerned about making a big profit.
"We're using this as a stepping stone for our resume," said Fernandez, general manager of Espo's, a 15-year-old Tampa company specializing in catering Cuban food.
"We're a growing company," Fernandez added, "so to do an event of this magnitude pushes our level of business to a higher level."
A transportation company commissioned by the NFL sought bids under $20 a head to serve the drivers. Espo's came in at $8 for a meal that includes a grilled chicken sandwich with fruit cup, potato salad and coleslaw.
All 10 of Espo's employees will be working along with 15 part-time hires from the University of Tampa.
This isn't Espo's first big event. Last year, it fed 2,700 people during employee appreciation day at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center. And that was a more difficult menu (barbecued ribs and barbecued chicken) and all-you-can-eat.
The Super Bowl assignment is complicated by its duration. Espo's will be on the job from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., serving snacks and drinks to drivers before and after the main meal.
Fernandez already is looking ahead playing up his Super Bowl role as he pitches for less glamorous large events. "This gives us a tremendous start for the year," he said.
Come Sunday, Cindy Dervech will become a general directing the movements of her troops.
Instead of soldiers, she'll be dispatching face-painters, tattoo artists, strolling musicians and perhaps a few faux pirates to every front of the Super Bowl celebration.
As the owner of Breezin' Entertainment, Dervech has been preparing for the game of the year for almost a year. She has a database that includes 1,200 bands and thousands of other acts, from monkey grinders to yo-yo artists to balloon twisters.
"On a typical weekend, we maybe do 20 to 30 acts," Dervech said. "For this weekend, we'll probably have a couple hundred acts out there. I'm seeing it get bigger every day as we're getting closer."
She is booking acts for a tailgate party at the Tampa Bay Center, for area hotels, for a party at the home of University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft and for the NFL Experience. Not to mention bookings for Gasparilla ("an event by itself").
When Tampa ushered in the year 2000, Chris Murnaghan wanted to do "something special," echoing the name of the corporate gift shop she runs on MacDill Avenue.
Last May, Murnaghan was at a vendor fair at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort pitching her idea for a third ornament in the series -- one highlighting Super Bowl XXXV at Raymond James Stadium -- when a man sporting an NFL pin walked by. He asked if she had a league license.
Instead of getting busted for moving into the NFL's turf, Murnaghan said she wound up as one of just three area businesses allowed to sell Super Bowl paraphernalia under a limited license expiring March 31.
It typically costs $30,000 a year for an NFL license. To encourage participation from small businesses in the host Super Bowl city, the NFL charged the selected locals only $1,000 for a limited license, Murnaghan said.
The Super Bowl ornament, with a pirate ship as the centerpiece, sells for $45, compared to $25 for the first two ornaments in the series.
Orders have been pouring in, from one to several hundred at a time, said Murnaghan, a former buyer for the old Maas Brothers department store. "We'll stay until midnight to gift wrap them" for next-day pickup, she said.
Robb Hunter Cigars
The Super Bowl is the biggest party of the year. A good party calls for a good cigar. And Tampa's cigar-rolling heritage makes tobacco a party preference for the big game.
Looking for a way to promote his St. Petersburg hand-rolled cigar store and simultaneously relish Tampa's spotlight, Hunter has signed a contract to be part of the Super Bowl Task Force's media party Tuesday night at the Florida Aquarium.
With two stations set up at the party, Hunter will explain the art of selecting the best tobacco leaf and rolling cigars while eight "cigar girls" pass out the finished product on silver platters.
"For those that can't go to Cuba, we bring Cuba to you," Hunter says. Except that it is illegal to import Cuban cigars so he uses tobacco culled from Cuban tobacco seed that was planted in Dominican, Nicaraguan and Honduran soil.
Hunter came in at the end of a recent cigar craze, launching his business in 1999, three days before the Final Four came to St. Petersburg.
Health concerns have continued to cut into the tobacco-smoking populace, but there are still enough cigar aficionados out there to build a business, Hunter contends.
"It's a numbers game," he said, "but America is still the place to party. America is still the place to relax and you do that with fine wine, with fine cheeses and fine, hand-made cigars."
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