Tampa’s Try

“Sunshine, on my shoulders, makes me happy.” – John Denver

A lot of people are looking at one Frozen Four bid and singing this song — it’s the bid from Tampa and the St. Pete Times Forum.

The Tampa Sports Commission, Tampa Bay Lightning and Alabama-Huntsville are hoping to bring college hockey’s biggest event to the Sunshine State.

The thought of sun and warmth to close out the hockey season has many people very interested to see what Tampa has to offer and if the NCAA will award Tampa the bid. There’s no doubt that there are supporters and at the same time there are those that don’t know if it will work.

But there are plenty that hope it will work and plenty that know it will work.

“We feel we have a ton to offer the NCAA,” said Bill Wickett, Senior VP of Communications for the St. Pete Times Forum and Tampa Bay Lightning. “Other than Detroit we have the biggest venue, a bigger guarantee. The student-athlete experience could not be better than any other market than here. And the mean temperature here in April is amazing.”

On paper Tampa does seem to have a lot to offer for the student-athlete and the fan. The building is located in the Channelside District, which came alive when the Forum was built. Surrounding the area there are many hotels, two of which are next to, or right across the street, from the Forum.

The building’s capacity for the Frozen Four will be 21,434, the largest seating capacity that the Frozen Four has ever had, Ford Field not withstanding.

Wickett points out that the activities before, between and after the games seems to be taken care of as all things are right around the arena and transportation is easy. Everything is within walking distance of the Forum and hotels, and there are trolleys connecting the Channelside District with other areas of Tampa.

“Outside of the games themselves and you’ll see this for the 2009 Super Bowl, everything we do will be designed around the outdoors,” said Wickett. “The convention center has a two-tier deck and that’s an area that could be used for the Hobey Baker ceremony and we can bring the Hat Trick in on boats. A lot of what we do in Tampa is take advantage of our weather and our water and we’ve built a lot around the weather.

“I would anticipate the fans and even student-athletes will be looking to going to the beach, or golfing or going to Busch Gardens. There is incredible activity in Tampa, and that’s why it was attractive to the NFL for the Super Bowl.”

The Super Bowl is coming back to Tampa in 2009, along with the first and second rounds of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament in 2008 and the Women’s Basketball Final Four in 2008 and several men’s basketball tournaments. The first and second rounds were also in Tampa two years ago. In fact, one of the things that Tampa points to is its success in putting on events for both college and professional sports.

“We can look at past events that have happened in Tampa and we embrace big events in a major, major way,” said Wickett. “The whole community will get behind us all the way. If you want to take a look at it, the Lightning attendance has increased every year since Bill Davidson nhas owned the team. We were over 18,000 in average attendance for the 2004 season and sold out for the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs.”

Wickett also points out that the community is behind the bid and the event fully, from the average fan to Tampa Bay Lightning star Martin St. Louis, the former Vermont All-American. St. Louis was part of the entourage that greeted the NCAA when they came for a site visit and will play a major role, as he has done in developing the fan base for hockey from the kids to the adults.

“The NCAA or skeptics may ask us if our community would get behind this and that’s why we felt it was important for someone like Martin St. Louis to be able to tell those people ‘Absolutely’,” said Wickett. “He’s seen Tampa involved as a hockey town and helped develop it. There’s over 20 high schools playing hockey now, up from four just four or five years ago.”

And last but not least, have we mentioned the weather?

“The weather here is great and there’s no humidity that time of year. It’s perfect,” said Wickett. “Because of our weather we’re an outdoor city. Our building is along the Garrison Channel. Each of these venues has outdoor seating, patio, decks, umbrellas and that’s what people do in the spring here.

“The NCAA Committee, the fans and student-athletes will certainly be reminded that they can warm up a lot while they are down here.”

Tampa is swinging hard for this, and there are undoubtably some factors to consider in choosing Tampa. It seems to have everything, and one thing that the other bids don’t have.