Super sports year kicks off in Florida

Joey Logano leads the field during the 61st annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway.

Today in Miami Gardens, Hard Rock Stadium will host the most popular event in all of American sports — the Super Bowl. In two weeks, Daytona Beach will get its moment in the sports spotlight, as race cars bolt around Daytona International Speedway in the Daytona 500 — NASCAR’s own version of the Super Bowl. Later in February, baseball fans will flock to cities all around the Sunshine State to watch MLB spring training games, while golf fans enjoy the start of the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing, which features tournaments in Palm Beach Gardens, Orlando, Ponte Vedra Beach and Palm Harbor. And in March, passionate basketball enthusiasts will flood Amalie Arena in Tampa for the first and second rounds of the 2020 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament — better known as March Madness.

Some of the country’s largest and most visible sporting events will call Florida home in 2020, making this year an especially big one for a burgeoning state with a thriving sports scene.

“Florida is a big winner,” said Rodney Barreto, chairman and president of the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee, which brought the big game back to South Florida for the first time in a decade. “It’s so exciting to take part in this. We’re blessed to live where we live and the weather is great, and we hope that everybody enjoys our community.”

Super Bowl LIV

Billions of eyes will be focused on Miami Gardens today to watch Super Bowl LIV — and the Miami Super Bowl Host Committee is ready to make it a success.

This year’s Super Bowl, which pits the Kansas City Chiefs against the San Francisco 49ers, will mark the 11th time the Miami metropolitan area has played host to the Super Bowl — the most of any place in the country. Miami Gardens last hosted the Super Bowl in 2010.

“We’re excited. We’re not taking anything for granted,” Barreto said. “We love the NFL, we love what they bring to the table. We think it’s a great marriage.”

Leading up to kickoff today, the area has been catering to visiting fans and locals with the Super Bowl LIVE event all week at Bayfront Park. There, attendees have been able to enjoy evening concerts, fireworks, live water shows and more

“It’s more than a game,” Barreto said. “This will be a weeklong celebration. We’re all about tourism here in Florida and particularly Miami. This is just going to be an incredible economic boost to our tourism industry here — the hotels, our restaurants, everybody that helps put this game on.”

Much like it takes a solid team effort to win a Super Bowl, it takes a giant team of people off the field to ensure a quality Super Bowl experience for fans.

“We have a whole security team coordinating the state, the federal, the local security efforts,” Barreto said. “We have a committee set up for volunteers. We’re recruiting and doing background checks and training 10,000 volunteers.”

Barreto said the committee is excited to welcome visitors and show off the area.

“We’re used to big events, but this is the biggest,” Barreto said. “There’s so much excitement in the air.”

Other Events

The Super Bowl isn’t the only premier sporting event visiting Florida in 2020.

For the first time since 2011, Tampa will welcome some of college basketball’s best to the city for March Madness.

Eight teams from around the country will participate in first-round games March 19 at Amalie Arena, with four advancing to second-round action set for March 21.

“We are beyond excited to welcome the first and second rounds back to Tampa Bay,” said Jason Aughey, senior vice president of sports tourism for the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “We are working diligently to provide an absolute first-class experience for the NCAA, their student-athletes and fans from all over for the teams that end up being selected to come to Tampa.”

Florida also will boast its regular stalwarts on the sports calendar, with the Daytona 500, the PGA Tour’s “Florida Swing” and spring training.

The Daytona 500 will get under way in a hurry Feb. 16 at Daytona International Speedway, where dozens of the world’s top race car drivers will try passing one another at mind-boggling speeds for a spot in Victory Lane.

“The Super Bowl is going to come and go. But the thing that’s a staple is that every February, the Daytona 500 is going to be happening at the speedway and it is our sport’s biggest and most prestigious race,” said Chip Wile, president at Daytona International Speedway. “It generates the most visibility, and I feel like that’s something that we’re really proud of.”

In addition to the Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway will host the Coke Zero Sugar 400 on Aug. 29 — the final race before NASCAR’s playoffs. In years past, that race took place around the Fourth of July, but moved to a more high-stakes spot this season. 

“From a racing perspective, I couldn’t think of a better stage for the final race before the playoffs,” Wile said. “A playoff berth is at stake if they get to Victory Lane, and that’s going to make it so exciting for the fans here at our beloved speedway, but also on television. I think people need to make sure they tune in because it’s certainly going to be a compelling story.”

Captivating stories are sure to arise during the PGA Tour’s Florida Swing, too.

Golf’s best will play in the Sunshine State for four straight weeks this spring, with The Honda Classic (Feb. 27-March 1) in Palm Beach Gardens, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando (March 5-8), The Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach (March 12-15) and the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor (March 19-22).

“Last year, the Florida events produced exciting finishes and great winners that will be looking to repeat in 2020,” said Tyler Dennis, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. “We are excited for our fans who have a month of amazing golf within a close proximity.”

Dennis said the PGA Tour continues to see great fields and substantial growth for all four Florida events.

“With the combination of exceptional fields, comfortable March weather and historic venues, we expect our Florida events will have another tremendous year in 2020,” Dennis said. “Each Florida stop has numerous experiences and amenities that keep fans engaged and entertained.”

The same can be said of the different spring training sites around Florida, which plays host to 15 MLB teams in the Grapefruit League — including the New York Yankees (Tampa), the Boston Red Sox (Fort Myers) and the St. Louis Cardinals (Jupiter). Games will begin in late February and continue through late March.

“As we are every year, the (Florida Sports Foundation) looks forward to the opportunity to house Major League Baseball’s 15 Grapefruit League teams in 13 communities through the Sunshine State,” said Angela Adams Suggs, president and CEO at Florida Sports Foundation. “Each community has done a great job preparing for the upcoming season, and we are excited to have each team here in February and March.”

With these teams come their fans, who flock to Florida from all over the country to watch some baseball. In 2018, fans attended an average of 2.9 games in Grapefruit League action, according to a study compiled by Tallahassee-based Downs & St. Germain Research.

“There’s nothing like an afternoon at the ballpark — the sites, sounds, interaction and passion for an individual’s respective team,” Suggs said. “As America’s pastime, baseball has helped develop bonds and create memories that send in- and out-of-state residents home with the desire to return in the future and add other experiences and opportunities to their trips.”

Economic Impact

In hosting these premier sporting events, Florida communities — and the state as a whole — hope to pump money into their respective economies this year.

The Super Bowl, for example, has been responsible for funneling in well over $300 million to the respective host city’s economy each of the last three years, according to reports released by each of the local host committees.

Barreto said Super Bowl LIV will be an incredible economic boost to the local tourism industry.

“Not everybody can go to the game — we obviously anticipate that 65,000 people will go to the game — but we anticipate another close to 150,000 people here in the greater South Florida area,” Barreto said. “We’re blessed that we have three international airports — all those airports will be busy. All the hotels will be seeing some action. A lot of catering, a lot of restaurants are filling up. It’s just great for business.”

With assistance from the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400, Florida sees an economic impact of $1.6 billion every year from events happening at Daytona International Speedway.

“I can tell you the community here really values the amount of money that’s generated through the events that we host,” Wile said. “You think about the number of hotel rooms and restaurants that benefit from the fans from all over the world who come to the Daytona International Speedway year round. ... We’re really proud to be able to help continue to stimulate our economy.”

While other parts of the country will be dealing with wintry conditions in February and March, those at Grapefruit League spring training will get to enjoy MLB baseball — and as a result, benefit the Florida economy.

“Spring training attracts 1.5 million fans yearly, which accounts for 7,152 jobs and a $687.1 million impact, with fan spending totaling $584 million,” Suggs said. “The addition of the Atlanta Braves’ CoolToday Park in North Port and the Toronto Blue Jays’ renovated TD Ballpark in Dunedin will also attract new and returning fans for the 2020 season.”

Like spring training, the Florida Swing contributes to a healthy economy via multiple events.

In fact, the PGA Tour puts on 16 tournaments across five tours in Florida every year — including qualifying events — leading to approximately $363 million in economic impact, said Chris Smith, senior director of business public relations for the PGA Tour.

The 2019 Players, in particular, drew more than 200,000 fans, 67% of whom reside outside the five-county area of the tournament, Smith said.

Meanwhile, Tampa is ready to embrace college basketball fans from around the country for first- and second-round games in March Madness. Aughey said the Tampa Bay Sports Commission is projecting somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000 hotel visitor room nights over the course of the first and second rounds. 

“When you have eight teams from all across the country who are coming in, those fans that are traveling with those teams make an incredible impact on a community,” Aughey said. “And then also on the social, or maybe more so on the local side, giving Tampa Bay residents and our community an opportunity to be a part of something special. I think there’s an appetite throughout the community to have one of arguably the most exciting sporting events in the country here in the destination.”

Senior Writer Tyler Breaman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5226, or tyler.breaman@thevillagesmedia.com.