Jason Aughey, senior director at Tampa Bay Sports Commission
, points to the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four (coming April 7-9 to Amalie Arena
) as the type of success he likes to replicate. College hockey’s national championship is back in the Sunshine State for the second time since 2012, continuing a trend of repeat business that’s made Tampa one of the hottest sports tourism destinations in the country. While marquee NCAA events and the Super Bowl are commonplace for the region, it continues its focus on youth and amateur tournaments to fill the annual calendar, Aughey reports. Connect Sports spoke to Aughey about building long-term partnerships with events and what’s ahead in Tampa.
How was Tampa able to bring back the Frozen Four so quickly?
When we hosted in 2012, it was the first time the championship had been in the Southeast. Fans would ask if hockey is really played in Florida and that motivated us a lot. There were initiatives we created in concert with the NCAA to raise the bar. We set an attendance record during the semifinals that we ended up breaking during the championship. Coming off that, the NCAA unveiled its next bid cycle so that was fresh on people’s mind.
How will the experience be different four years later?
We’re fortunate the tourism industry is booming here. You see the advent of new hotels and restaurants. We have a brand-new river walk connecting all of downtown that will resonate with folks. There have also been significant upgrades
to the Amalie Arena, which will host the Frozen Four. Those who attended in 2012 will be blown away by how the arena has improved in terms of guest experience and all of its bells and whistles. It’s one of the top arenas in the country now.
You’ve been at the commission for a decade now. What are you most proud of?
It’s been absolutely phenomenal to see how our organization has evolved into hosting some of the biggest sports events in the country—from collegiate and professional to youth and amateur. How we judge whether an event is a success or not is if it comes back. Over that 10-year span, you can look at the Women’s Final Four, which we hosted in 2008 and 2015, and will again in 2019. Or look at the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, which we hosted in 2009 and is coming back in 2022, or the Frozen Four, which we hosted in 2012 and it is back now. It’s the same thing on the youth and amateur side—we take great pride in locking them up into multiyear deals to keep them in the market.
[inlinead align="left"]"How we judge whether an event is a success or not is if it comes back."[/inlinead]
How can you handle all the business?
We’ve got a really solid team on the commission, and thanks to our partnership with [Visit Tampa Bay
], Tampa really offers a one-stop shop for clients’ needs. It’s the balance of hosting marquee sports events that we’ve become known for, and the 120 to 130 youth and amateur side that we host almost weekly. Next year, we’ve got the National College Football Playoff Championship at Raymond James Stadium
. We have a lot on our plate, but it speaks volumes for how popular Tampa has become as a destination.
Any new facilities we should know about?
In January, we hosted the Unites States Flag & Touch Football League
at Otis M. Andrews Sports Complex and Ellis-Methvin Park
in Plant City, Florida. They were the first tenants of the facility. They enjoyed their experience so much that they’ve already re-signed to come back, and we’re looking to build a long-term partnership with them. That was something that came out of Connect Sports. There are a few more in the pipeline I can’t talk about yet, but they will be game changers.
What’s next for Tampa?
I would be remiss if I said another Super Bowl isn’t on our radar. To accommodate the growth, we’ve had some new hotels come on board and a big new one that is coming downtown. We’re already seeing upgrades underway at Raymond James Stadium and what’s been done at Amalie Arena. Not to mention Tampa International Airport
is going through a massive upgrade that will double daily its passengers.