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Tampa tourism agency makes most of Rays’ stay in Orlando

Visit Tampa Bay is capitalizing on the opportunity to reach more spring training fans.

  • By Brian Hartz
  • | 8:45 p.m. March 1, 2023
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
The Tampa Bay Rays played their first "home" game of the 2023 spring training season on Feb. 28 at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
The Tampa Bay Rays played their first "home" game of the 2023 spring training season on Feb. 28 at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
Courtesy photo
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The Tampa Bay Rays’ traditional spring training home, Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, is still out of commission because of damage from Hurricane Ian, so the team has been forced to get creative with how and where it prepares for the 2023 Major League Baseball season, which officially gets underway on March 30.

That creativity included a rare appearance in Orlando on Feb. 28, when the Rays played a “home” game against the New York Yankees at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. St. Petersburg’s boys of summer drubbed the Bronx Bombers 12-0 in front of a crowd of nearly 7,000, but the occasion was also a win for Visit Tampa Bay, the destination marketing agency for Tampa and Hillsborough County.

According to Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Harrison, an eight-year veteran of the organization, VTB doesn’t “step on the toes” of Visit St. Pete-Clearwater, its Pinellas County counterpart, during the regular season, but it has been a spring training sponsor of both the Rays and Yankees for several years.

“We stay out of their space,” he says, “and they stay out of ours.”

For spring training 2023, VTB has budgeted about $50,000 for on-field ads, radio spots, social media posts, etc. But it also used the Orlando game as a chance to reach more fans and travel industry professionals in Florida’s most lucrative tourism market.

“Orlando is a key market,” Harrison says, “not only from a domestic situation, but also the millions of tourists coming in from the rest of the world. It’s obviously a major hub for international tourists, so we do a lot of advertising at Orlando International Airport and on International Drive. But this … this is just a great opportunity to reach them here at Disney.”

Spring training happens in only two places in the world: Arizona and Florida. So, if you're a sports fan, a baseball fan, your eyes are on these places." –Visit Tampa Bay Chief Marketing Officer Patrick Harrison

At the Feb. 28 game, VTB hosted representatives from, Hopper, Galaxy Vacations, Hotel Beds, (which targets British tourists), Abreu Tours, webbeds, Maritz and “a major convention group” that’s being kept confidential until a contract is signed but will “bring a very large group to Tampa,” according to VTB spokesperson Vanessa Evans. They treated the guests to an all-inclusive luxury suite experience that also included swag bags donated by the Yankees, as well as bags of goodies, put together by VTB, that included Rays and Tampa promotional items.

Visit Tampa Bay branding could be found around the baseball stadium at Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Feb. 28 when the Tampa Bay Rays took on the New York Yankees.
Courtesy photo

The rapid ascent of Tampa Bay as a major national and international tourist destination means spring training isn’t the vital driver of tourism that it once was, Harrison says, but that doesn’t lessen its importance as a unique marketing vehicle for the region.

“Spring training happens in only two places in the world: Arizona and Florida,” Harrison says. “So, if you're a sports fan, a baseball fan, your eyes are on these places. If you're watching SportsCenter tonight, everyone's going to see our advertising at a game the Yankees are playing. You put those two things together and for pennies, in effect, we’re getting widespread advertising.”

VTB says its goal for spring training campaigns is threefold:

  1. Brand awareness in all in-state and out-of-state markets, especially cold-weather metro areas such as New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., but also Orlando and Miami. With New York and New Jersy being the organization’s top targets for domestic outreach, the Rays-Yankees game in Orlando couldn’t have come at a better time.
  2. Flight and hotel bookings by travelers in target markets.
  3. Support of a community partner — in this case, the Rays.

Just like how advanced analytics have radically changed how baseball players’ and teams’ performance is evaluated, Big Data, Harrison says, makes it easier than ever before to evaluate whether VTB’s goals are being met.

“We work with a couple of different data companies,” he says. “It’s all anonymized data, but we know X number of people came from this or that ZIP code and spent this much and stayed this long. That shows how much revenue we're bringing but it also shows if we want to redirect to other areas that are not doing as well as others, or maybe there’s something we are doing well and we want to maximize the dollars there.”

The Feb. 28 Rays-Yankees spring training game in Orlando was a great opportunity for Visit Tampa Bay to reach fans from New York and Jersey — its top domestic markets.
Courtesy photo

Harrison adds, “There used to be an old line that 50% of advertising is wasted but no one knew which 50%. That's B.S. — we know where every penny goes now, and as a destination marketing organization, that’s key. We don’t have that much money to spend. In real terms, Coca-Cola probably spends more per minute than we spend in an entire year, so we’ve got to be very targeted and careful.”

The Rays will continue to use the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for their minor league training camp but will play the remainder of their spring training home games at Tropicana Field in St. Pete. Visit for a complete schedule.



Brian Hartz

Brian Hartz holds a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University and has been a St. Petersburg resident since 2013. He has also worked for newspapers and magazines in Indiana, Canada and New Zealand.

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