Jason Aughey, Senior Vice President of Sports Tourism
Every time an event organizer selects Tampa Bay, it’s a big win. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, a NCAA Championship, girls volleyball tournament, adult hockey national championship, senior softball invitational, or a sports conference or convention, our team takes tremendous pride in putting this community in the best position possible to land these incredibly impactful events.
Most people associate the Tampa Bay Sports Commission with major events, and rightfully so. What a lot of people don’t realize is that we traditionally host approximately 100 events annually in the youth and amateur space; events that bring teams and their families to our community to compete in a variety of different traditional and non-traditional sports that generate significant economic impact throughout the year. That blended model of hosting major events, along with high-level youth and amateur events, has helped Tampa Bay earn a reputation as a leader in the sports tourism space and one of the top places in the country to host an event.
Obviously, being awarded our fifth Super Bowl is the first one that immediately comes to mind – it doesn’t get any better than earning the opportunity to host one of the most significant sporting events in the world. Being selected to serve as the first location in the southeast United States to host the College Football Playoff National Championship in 2017 was pretty special too – that was a five-year bid process for us! WrestleMania 36, which was scheduled to take place this past April before COVID hit, was another huge win a couple of years ago (we spent over a decade trying to bring that event to Tampa Bay!). Naturally, we were devastated when WrestleMania did not take place in our community; the silver lining is we were able to build strong relationships with WWE, and create a detailed plan that we would be able to quickly implement if given the chance to host again in the future.
The bid process is one of my favorite parts of this job. It’s a complete team effort when the venues, hotels, franchises, universities, and key community partners all come together, working towards a common goal. There is a ton of time and energy poured into each and every bid that we submit and each proposal is customized with a specific vision in mind. For those events that we are fortunate to be awarded, our ability to execute at a high level and deliver on the promises we make is so important. There is no job too big or too small for our team and everyone involved is willing to do whatever it takes to try and raise the bar. Planning and coordination efforts can take months (and in some cases years). When that event kicks off and you finally have a chance to soak it all in, there is an intrinsic value derived, knowing that our collective efforts have led to this moment.
While each of those major events has created lasting memories for me, it’s the military events that we have been lucky enough to host that have been the most impactful. From the 2013 National Veterans Wheelchair Games, an event that we partnered with James A Haley Veterans Hospital leadership to stage, to the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games, an event we worked directly with SOCOM to help execute, these military events afforded me a whole new level of appreciation for our veterans and their incredible courage to overcome the challenges they have faced. Furthermore, recruiting and hosting these events allows Tampa Bay the opportunity to welcome and honor our nation’s heroes and thank them for their service.
You and Rob Higgins are a dynamic duo and have worked together for 15 years creating one of the most reputable and successful Sports Commissions in the country. What has been the secret ingredient in your recipe for success?
I think we complement one another very well in that we both bring a wealth of experience to the table and different perspectives on how we look at things. Having spent as much time as we have together over the years, we communicate at a high level and play off one another well when interacting with our clients and partners. We are also both incredibly driven and competitive, yet very humble and selfless in the sense that it’s not about us; it’s about the client, organization, or partner, and obviously the community.
In addition to those things, I would venture to say that the key ingredient is trust. Rob is hands down one of the smartest, creative, and hardest working people I have ever met and I have been fortunate to learn a lot from him. His leadership style affords me the autonomy to go out and do what I need to do. Knowing your boss has confidence in your ability to lead and take the reins on a major event or project goes a long way. That freedom and creative control allow me to present my vision, leading to us coming together to kick around different ideas from our respective lenses to ultimately reach the desired outcome.
One of your many roles and responsibilities with the Tampa Bay Super Bowl LV Host Committee is working closely with the NFL to oversee out of home branding, décor, and signage. Can you give readers a sneak peek preview as to what they might expect to see and experience when Super Bowl LV comes to life this February?
There are a ton of discussions currently taking place with the NFL and their partners right now as we work to finalize our signage plan. Ultimately we are striving to create a first-rate look and décor package that will welcome the NFL, the two teams, sponsors and fans in a big way from the moment they arrive at Tampa International Airport throughout their entire time in our community. From a comprehensive street pole banner package throughout the region to building wallscapes and high rise projections, the goal is to create a signage plan that welcomes Super Bowl LV to our community.
Working in concert with the NFL, we are also getting close to finalizing several “big hit” elements that will undoubtedly create a lasting impression for not only those visiting but those watching around the world as well. So many times, when we travel to different cities to scout major events, you would never know the event was in town; they get lost. This is not the case in Tampa Bay, where the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County, along with countless community partners, are focused on working together to create a branding portfolio that demonstrates how Tampa Bay is wrapping its collective arms around the Super Bowl.
In recent weeks, the NCAA announced their selection of Tampa Bay to host four signature Division I Championship Events over the next six years. This announcement was somewhat unprecedented. What does it mean to Team Tampa Bay to welcome back the 2023 NCAA Men’s Frozen Four and NCAA Women’s Volleyball Championship, the 2025 NCAA Women’s Final Four, and the 2026 NCAA Tournament men’s basketball first and second rounds?
Unprecedented is the perfect word to describe the 2023-2026 NCAA Bid Cycle for us! In short, we had four top targets going into the process, and we came out of the process, having been selected as the host city for those four top targets. Rob always talks about how you can essentially judge an event’s success by whether or not it returns. The fact that we were selected to host our second Division I Women’s Volleyball Championship and third Men’s Frozen Four, both in 2023, a record fourth Women’s Final Four in 2025, and a fourth Men’s Basketball First and Second Rounds in 2026, speaks volumes to that point.
This is a community that doesn’t rest on its laurels; it’s a community that continues to work tirelessly to raise the bar with each event that we host and deliver unforgettable student-athlete experiences. These selections not only validate our organization and the way we go about handling our business, but it also speaks to our relationship with the NCAA; that the various committees, in the face of a pandemic, would select a tried and true partner in Tampa Bay; a destination that they can count on.
Combining our hosting experience with all the incredible renovations and improvements coming to Tampa Bay from an infrastructure standpoint, the NCAA and its student-athletes and fans will be treated to all new experiences in the years ahead!