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    Value of sculptures grinds on skeptics

    Tourism officials say the Super Bowl sand helmets brought in heaps of publicity worth more than $8-million, but irritated mayors of beach communities don't believe it.

    By LISA GREENE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 27, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- The dollar value of a sand castle is as shaky as a castle built on sand.

    The Super Bowl sand sculptures, which cost $683,000 to build and promote, returned a whopping $8.59-million worth of publicity, says the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

    But just ask Leon Atkinson, mayor of Treasure Island and president of the Barrier Islands Governmental Council, about the sculpture's value.

    "I know in my heart that the value sucks," he said.

    The bureau, which commissioned the sculpture, says 355 news segments were broadcast on local news stations from Seattle to Charlotte, N.C., from New Orleans to New Haven, Conn., from Los Angeles to Louisville, Ky. Then there was ESPN and MTV2. Overseas TV included the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

    You just can't buy publicity like that, said Carole Ketterhagen, the bureau's executive director.

    "The fact is, it did work," she said Monday. "It got worldwide media attention. And it looked spectacular."

    The bureau's analysis showed it would have cost $2.86-million to buy ads in newspapers and on TV that featured the 35-foot-tall sculptures representing football helmets. But the exposure was worth more than that, Ketterhagen said, because it was during TV newscasts and on newspaper front pages. The bureau used an industry standard to triple the ad cost for the final "publicity value" of $8.59-million, she said.

    Industry standards do not convince local mayors.

    "I have yet to find anybody who saw anything on TV relating to that thing," Atkinson said.

    "The goal that day was to capture the moment and drive business down here," said Redington Shores Mayor J.J. Beyrouti. "From our point of view, there was nobody here. The beach was empty."

    Both mayors preferred a $20,000 sand sculpture of football players climbing a 15-foot-high sand castle built on St. Pete Beach by the Gulf Beaches of Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce.

    "It was so awesome," Atkinson said.

    And the football helmet sculpture on Sand Key?

    Atkinson didn't see it. But he has looked at the photos.

    "Now that somebody's told me they're football helmets, I can see where they might be football helmets," he said.

    Pinellas County Commissioner Bob Stewart was chairman of the bureau when it approved the sandy spending. He still wishes the sculpture had been featured on CBS during its Super Bowl coverage, and the $8-million figure seemed high even to him.

    "But I do think it was worth more than what we invested in it," he said. "I feel very comfortable with that."

    Stewart said he has heard about the beach officials' unhappiness.

    "I had heard it stems from their own sand castling," he said. "It may have been seen as a form of competition."

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