Sports in the Tampa Bay Area
The Tampa Bay Area is home to many sports teams and has a substantial history of sporting activity. Most of the region's professional sports franchises use the name "Tampa Bay", which is the name of a body of water, not of any city. This is to emphasize that they represent the wider metropolitan area and not a particular municipality.
Three teams compete at the major league level. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play in the National Football League (NFL), Tampa Bay Lightning play in the National Hockey League (NHL), and the Tampa Bay Rays play in Major League Baseball (MLB). Additionally, six MLB teams hold their spring training camps in the area.
A number of minor league franchises play in the region as well, including the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the new North American Soccer League, and four minor league baseball teams competing in the Class-A Florida State League.
 Major pro sports
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL began play in old Tampa Stadium in 1976 as an expansion team. After losing an NFL-record 26 straight games to begin their existence, the Bucs reached the 1979 NFC Championship game only to sink back into futility with an NFL-record 14 straight losing seasons through the 1980s and early 1990s.
The franchise's fortunes began a turnaround in the mid-90s under coach Tony Dungy, and the success continued after the team moved into newly-built Raymond James Stadium in 1999. The upward trend culminated in the Buc's first championship at the end of the 2002 season under coach Jon Gruden, when they defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII. The Bucs have made several playoff appearances since then but have not returned to the championship game. They have been coached by Greg Schiano since 2012.
 Major League Baseball
 Many attempts
Minor league, amateur, and spring training baseball have long been very popular in the Tampa Bay area. As such, a fierce cross-bay competition for a potential Major League Baseball franchise developed in the 1980s and 1990s, with Tampa and St. Petersburg each vying to bring professional baseball to town. Despite warnings from MLB that expansion was not imminent, St. Pete began construction of the Florida Suncoast Dome in 1987 in the hopes of eventually landing a MLB team through expansion or relocation.
Many teams, including the Oakland A's, Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins, and San Francisco Giants, considered moving to the vacant venue. Local investors actually bought part ownership of the Twins and, in another attempt, had an agreement to buy the Giants and bring them to St. Pete. However, for various reasons, all these attempts to bring major league baseball to the area fell short.
Tampa Bay was rumored to be a front-runner when MLB expanded by two teams in 1991, but Miami and Denver were chosen instead. Finally, in March 1995, St. Petersburg was awarded a major league expansion franchise along with Phoenix
 Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Devil Rays began play in newly-renamed Tropicana Field in 1998. The franchise struggled through its first 10 years of existence, finishing last in the American League's East Division in nine of those ten seasons. After (again) posting the worst record in baseball in 2007, however, the newly-renamed "Rays" won 97 games in 2008, winning the AL East and the AL pennant to earn a berth in the 2008 World Series under manager Joe Maddon. Including 2008, the Rays have won two AL East titles and have made 4 playoff appearances in 5 seasons.
 Spring training and minor leagues
The area has had a long association with spring training baseball. The local tradition began in 1913, when the Chicago Cubs, lured by Tampa mayor D.B. McKay's pledge to pay the team's expenses, trained at Plant Field. St. Petersburg mayor Al Lang made a similar push, and in 1914, the St. Louis Browns became the first of many teams to train in St. Pete, being succeeded by the Philadelphia Phillies for 1915. The Phillies used a new facility called "Coffee Pot Bayou Park" along the city's bayfront area. In the 1940s, a small modern ballpark was built on the site. It would be christened Al Lang Field in honor of the mayor who had brought baseball to St. Petersburg.
Many major league teams have trained in the Tampa Bay area over the ensuing decades. Current members of the spring training Grapefruit League include:
- The Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota
- The New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa
- The Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater
- The Pittsburgh Pirates at McKechnie Field in Bradenton
- The Toronto Blue Jays at Knology Park in Dunedin
- The Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland
- The Clearwater Threshers (Phillies): Bright House Networks Field in Clearwater
- The Dunedin Blue Jays: Knology Park in Dunedin
- The Bradenton Marauders (Pirates): McKechnie Field in Bradenton
- The Tampa Yankees: George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa
- The Lakeland Flying Tigers: Joker Marchant Stadium, Lakeland
Several other local minor league teams have come and gone over the years. Notable historical teams include the Tampa Smokers, which became the area's first modern professional baseball team in 1919; the St. Petersburg Saints, which began play in 1920; and the Tampa Tarpons which, as an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, produced several members of team's 1970s-era "Big Red Machine".
The NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning were established as an expansion franchise in 1992. They began play in the Florida State Fairgrounds' Expo Hall in Tampa, then moved across the bay to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg (which was rechristened "The Thunderdome" at the time), and finally found a permanent home ice in the new Tampa Bay Times Forum (originally known as the "Ice Palace"), located in the Channelside District of downtown Tampa. The "Bolts" won their first Stanley Cup championship at the end of the 2003–04 season, defeating the Calgary Flames in seven games. After a few losing seasons, the Lightning made it back to the Eastern Conference finals in 2011 under 1st-year coach Guy Boucher.
 College sports
 University of South Florida
The University of South Florida (USF) Bulls (originally the "Golden Brahmans") compete in NCAA Division I, the highest level of college sports. USF opened in north Tampa in 1960 and started its sports program in 1965 with a men's soccer squad. The school gradually added more sports in the ensuing years, including both men's and women's basketball in 1971. The hoop teams played in Curtis Hixon Hall in downtown Tampa until 1980, when the school opened the on-campus USF Sun Dome for use by its basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball teams.
USF began a football program in 1998. They played in Tampa Stadium for one season, then moved into newly-built Raymond James Stadium the following year. The program competed as a Division I-AA independent during its first four seasons until 2001, when the Bulls moved up to Division I-A. They joined Conference USA in 2003 and switched to the Big East Conference in 2005.
After joining the Big East, the Bulls began a streak of six straight bowl game appearances. The 2007 season was the program's most successful so far, as the team reached as high as #2 in the BCS rankings under coach Jim Leavitt. Willie Taggart became USF's head football coach after the 2012 season.
 University of Tampa
The University of Tampa has the oldest collegiate sports program in the area, dating to 1933, when the school first fielded a football team. The "Tampa U" Spartans used Plant Field for a few seasons before moving to Phillips Field for several decades. They were the first team to call Tampa Stadium home when it opened in 1967. The Spartans moved up to play NCAA Division I football and produced several NFL stars before dropping the sport entirely after the 1974 season due to budgetary concerns.
Currently, UT competes at the NCAA Division II level in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC). UT is among the top schools in the SSC in both championships and student-athletes named to the Commissioner's Honor Roll. Spartan teams have won NCAA-II titles in men's soccer (1981, 1994 and 2001), women's soccer (2007), baseball (1992, 1993, 1998, 2006 and 2007), golf (1987 and 1988), and volleyball (2006). With national championships in 2006 and 2007, the Spartan baseball team became the first team in Div. II baseball to win consecutive titles since they did it previously in 1992 and 1993. The school's basketball teams have played in the on-campus Bob Martinez Sports Center since 1984.
 Super Bowls, World Series, and other championship events
- Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls. Super Bowl XVIII (1984) and Super Bowl XXV (1991) were held in Tampa Stadium; Super Bowl XXXV (2001) and Super Bowl XLIII (2009) were played in Raymond James Stadium.
- Two World Series games were played in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field in the fall of 2008 when the Tampa Bay Rays hosted the Philadelphia Phillies.
- The NCAA has regularly chosen local venues to host contests for the men's and women's national championship basketball tournaments. Tropicana Field was the site of the 1999 Final Four and has hosted several regional finals. The Tampa Bay Times Forum has hosted early-round games in the men's tournament many times and was the site of the 2008 Women's Final Four.
- Tampa Stadium played host to the 1984 USFL Championship Game.
 Other sports and events
 Arena football
The Tampa Bay Storm play in the Arena Football League. Originally established in Pittsburgh as the Pittsburgh Gladiators, the team moved to St. Petersburg and changed their name for the 1991 season. The newly christened Storm won their first Arena Bowl championship in their first season in the Tampa Bay Area and have been extremely successful ever since; the franchise's 5 league titles is more than any other AFL team.
The Storm have one of the longest associations with their market of any AFL team and enjoy strong local support. In 2010, the team's average attendance (15,237) and total attendance (121,896) were the highest in the league.
The Storm's original home turf in the Tampa Bay Area was Tropicana Field, which was called "The Thunderdome" for a few years in honor of its two main tenants at the time: the Storm and the Lightning. Since 1997, the Storm has played its home games in the Tampa Bay Times Forum in downtown Tampa.
The Tampa Bay Rowdies are a member of the new North American Soccer League (NASL) competing in the second tier of the United States soccer pyramid. The franchise considers itself to be a continuation of the original original Tampa Bay Rowdies of the old NASL and displays a star on its shield commemoratiing the 1975 championship. Though the owners intended to use the Rowdies name from the beginning, trademark issues forced the team to call itself FC Tampa Bay when it took the pitch as an expansion franchise of the USSF Division 2 Professional League in 2010. The team transitioned into the NASL for 2011 and finally obtained the rights to the Rowdies name for 2012.
The club played its first season in George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa before moving to St. Petersburg's Al Lang Stadium for subsequent seasons. In 2012, the Rowdies won the NASL's Soccer Bowl to claim the league championship.
The Tampa Bay Area has two rugby union teams that compete in the Florida Rugby Union. The Bay Area Pelicans RFC, established in 1977, play in USA Rugby Division II. The Tampa Bay Krewe, established in 1989, play in Division I and have sides in Division II and Division III as well as a women's side.
 Other events
Notable sporting events in the area include:
- The NCAA football Division I FBS Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium is held in Tampa each January, usually on New Years Day
- The NCAA football Division I FBS Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl at Tropicana Field is held in St. Petersburg each December
- The 2008 and 2009 ACC Championship Games were held at Raymond James Stadium
- The USHRA holds an event every January at Raymond James Stadium
- The IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is held on a course encompassing the Albert Whitted Airport and streets in the Bayfront area in St. Petersburg. The race has been held in 2003 & 2005–present. Other motorsports events include the SCCA Trans-Am Series, which competed at the Bayfront area from 1985-1990, and at a course surrounding Tropicana Field from 1996-1997. In 1989-1990, IMSA held a race at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
 Historical teams and venues
 Old venues
 Tampa Stadium
Tampa Stadium was the first large modern sports venue in the area, holding over 73,000 fans in its final configuration. It was built in 1967 for the University of Tampa Spartans college football program with an eye toward future NFL expansion. "Tampa U" discontinued its football program in 1974, but Tampa Stadium was soon put back to use when the Tampa Bay Rowdies began play in 1975 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicked off in 1976.
In its day, the "Big Sombrero" was also home to the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL, the Tampa Bay Mutiny of MLS, and USF Bulls football. It hosted two Super Bowls and a Pro Bowl along with numerous special events and large concerts, such as a 1973 Led Zeppelin concert that broke the all-time record for the largest crowd to see a single artist and a 1977 Led Zeppelin concert that was cut short by a thunderstorm, leading to an audience riot.
Immediately upon buying the Buccaneers in 1995, new owner Malcolm Glazer declared Tampa Stadium inadequate and demanded that a new facility be built at public expense or he would move the team. Local governments acquiesced, raising sales taxes and constructing Raymond James Stadium directly adjacent to Tampa Stadium. The Big Sombrero was demolished in 1998.
 Al Lopez Field
Al Lopez Field was a spring training and minor league ballpark in Tampa situated at the current location of Raymond James Stadium. It was built in 1954 and named after Al Lopez, the Ybor City native who went on become Tampa's first MLB player and, eventually, a Hall of Fame manager. The ballpark was originally the spring training home of the Chicago White Sox, the team that Al Lopez managed at the time.
The White Sox moved out and the Cincinnati Reds moved in for 1960. The Reds would use Al Lopez Field and the adjacent training facilities (nicknamed "Redsland") as their spring home for almost 30 years. The Tampa Tarpons, the Reds' Class-A team, played in the ballpark during the summer, and several members of Cincinnati's championship-winning "Big Red Machine" such as Pete Rose. Johnny Bench, and Dave Concepción played some of their first professional baseball in Tampa.
The Reds moved to new facilities in nearby Plant City for spring training 1988. The Tarpons played one more season in the ballpark before it was torn down in 1989. To honor its still-living namesake, the city of Tampa changed the name of a nearby park from "Horizon Park" to "Al Lopez Park".
 Plant Field
Plant Field was the first large spectator sports facility in the area. It was built in 1889 by Henry B. Plant across the Hillsborough River from Tampa as part of his Tampa Bay Hotel resort. As the only facility of its kind in Central Florida, Plant Field hosted a wide variety of events, including auto and horse racing; pro, college, and high school football; and large political events. It was also the long-time location of the Florida State Fair, and the route of the Gasparilla parade would end on Plant Field's track while the fair was in session.
Plant Field was also the first home of the minor league Tampa Smokers, the area's first professional baseball team, and was one of the first spring training sites in Florida, hosting several different teams over the decades. During one of the earliest ballgames in April 1919, Babe Ruth reportedly hit his longest home run - a 587 foot blast that is memorialized with a historical marker at the approximate location were it landed at the current site of the University of Tampa's school of business.
The University of Tampa took over Plant Field in the early 1970s and renamed it Peppin-Rood Stadium after university benefactors. Since then, the school has built new facilities on its huge footprint, including a soccer field (Peppin Stadium), softball and baseball fields, dormitories, and other academic and athletic facilities. While a portion of the old playing surface is still in use as part of newer venues, the last remaining portions of Plant Field's old grandstand was torn down in 2002.
 Phillips Field
Phillips Field was a medium-sized stadium (maximum capacity approximately 20,000) located just north of Plant Field between Cass Street and the current location of Interstate 275 on the west bank of the Hillsborough River. It served as the home for the University of Tampa's football team from 1936 to 1967 and was named after I.W. Phillips, a local businessman who donated the land to the school so that the Spartans would not have to share Plant Field.
Besides "Tampa U", Phillips Field occasionally hosted other football teams. It was the site of the Cigar Bowl, the area's first college bowl game, from 1946 to 1954, and the Florida Gators scheduled a home game in the facility almost every season from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Local high school rivalry games that attracted crowds too large for the participants' smaller stadiums were played in Phillips Field until the late 1960s. Phillips Field was also the site of well-attended NFL preseason contests in the mid-1960s that helped Tampa earn an eventual expansion franchise.
The city gave nearby Plant Field to University of Tampa after Tampa Stadium was built in 1967. Phillips Field fell into disuse and was razed in the early 1970s. Tampa Preparatory School and Julian Lane Riverfront Park were built at its former location.
 Curtis Hixon Hall
Curtis Hixon Hall was a multipurpose facility built in 1965 on the banks of the Hillsborough River in downtown Tampa. Along with various concerts and other events, Curtis Hixon Hall hosted many boxing and wrestling cards. It served as the first home of the USF Bulls basketball team, and hosted several minor league pro sports teams as well.
Curtis Hixon Hall was made obsolete by the construction of newer and larger facilities such as the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the Sun Dome, and the Tampa Convention Center. It was demolished in 1993 and replaced with Curtis Hixon Park. In 2010, a new Tampa Museum of Art and a children's museum opened on the site of the old hall.
 Bayfront Center
The Bayfront Center (also known as the Bayfront Arena) was a multipurpose facility along the shores of Tampa Bay near downtown St. Petersburg. Though a little larger than Tampa's Curtis Hixon Hall, it was built in the same year (1965) and hosted a similar mix of concerts, sports, and special events. The Bayfront Center was home to the Tampa Bay Rowdies' indoor soccer games along with various minor league basketball and hockey teams. Several nationally televised wrestling and boxing events were held there, along with many Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus TV specials. It was demolished in 2004, and its former location is now the site of the new Salvador Dalí Museum.
 Defunct teams
Over the years, the Tampa Bay area was home to several professional sports franchises that eventually folded, including many short-lived minor league teams. Major sports teams included:
 Tampa Bay Rowdies
The Tampa Bay Rowdies were the first major professional sports team in the area. As such, they were also the first pro franchise to make Tampa Stadium its home field and the first to use use "Tampa Bay" in their name. They began play in 1975 as an expansion franchise of the original North American Soccer League (NASL). The Rowdies won the inaugural Soccer Bowl in 1975, bringing Tampa Bay its first professional sports championship, and were successful for most of their existence. The NASL folded in 1984, but the Rowdies continued play in other outdoor and indoor soccer leagues (in Tampa Stadium and St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center, respectively) before finally folding in 1993.
A new incarnation of the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the new North American Soccer League took the field in 2010. While a licensing dispute forced the franchise to call itself "FC Tampa Bay" for its initial two seasons, the new club used the old club's green and gold color scheme and include a star for the Rowdies' 1975 championship in their team shield The team officially began using the "Rowdies" name for the 2012 season.
 Tampa Bay Bandits
The Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League (USFL) played three seasons in Tampa Stadium from 1983-1985. With innovative head coach Steve Spurrier and a fan-friendly atmosphere, the team's "Banditball" brand rivaled the then-moribund Bucs in local fan support.
The USFL decided to compete directly with the NFL in 1986 by moving its season from the spring to the fall. But after the failure of an infamous lawsuit, the league folded instead. John Bassett, the principal owner of the Bandits, had opposed the USFL's strategy and planned to make the team a charter member of a new spring league. However, Bassett's failing health prevented this idea from becoming reality. He died from cancer in 1986, and the Bandits would not play another down.
 Tampa Bay Mutiny
The Tampa Bay Mutiny was a charter franchise of Major League Soccer. They began play at Tampa Stadium in 1996 and were immediately successful, winning the MLS Supporters' Shield in their inaugural season behind MLS MVP Carlos Valderrama and forward Roy Lassiter, whose 27 goals in 1996 is still the MLS single-season record.
As the team transitioned into Raymond James Stadium for 1999, however, poor personnel moves (including the trading away of both Valderrama and Lassiter) led to decreased win totals which led to decreased fan support. Unable to find local buyers and hampered by an unfavorable lease agreement for Raymond James Stadium, the league folded the franchise in 2001.
 List of current major sports teams
|Club||Sport||League / Conference||Venue|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Football||National Football League (NFL) - NFC South||Raymond James Stadium, Tampa|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Baseball||Major League Baseball - AL East||Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Ice hockey||National Hockey League (NHL) - SE Division||Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa|
|Tampa Bay Storm||Arena football||Arena Football League (AFL) - Southern Div.||Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa|
|Tampa Bay Rowdies||Soccer||North American Soccer League (NASL)||Al Lang Stadium, St. Petersburg|
|University of South Florida Bulls Football||College football||NCAA Division I - Big East Conference||Raymond James Stadium, Tampa|
|University of South Florida Bulls Basketball||College basketball||NCAA Division I - Big East Conference||USF Sun Dome, Tampa|
- Thunderdome Was Built But They Haven't Come - Orlando Sentinel
- Jpg=4976%2C4776597 "At Last, Tampa Bay has its baseball team" - Ocala Star-Banner (March 10, 1995)
- "Baseball committee picks Miami, Denver" - Sarasota Herald-Tribune, June 11, 1991
- History of Tampa Bay Baseball at raysbaseball.com
- Florida Grapefruit League history
- University of South Florida - Celebrating 50 Years of Success
- AFL Arena Football History - Year By Year - 2010 | ArenaFan.com
- Led Zeppelin - Official Website
- Led Zeppelin - Official Website
- Raymond James Stadium project a reminder of the Glazers' sweetheart deal | Tampa Bay Buccaneers blog: Bucs Beat | tampabay.com & St. Petersburg Times
- AL LOPEZ PARK Page 3
- Plant Field, Tampa
- "Babe's Longest Homer" Marker, Tampa, Florida
- Tampa Spartans facilities
- "Peppin-Rood grandstands going down in history" - St. Pete Times, May 1, 2002
- Interview with A.C. Howell
- Breakfast Bonus - Tom McEwen Sports - from TBO.com Blogs
- Breakfast Bonus - Tom McEwen Sports - from TBO.com Blogs
- FC Tampa Bay sheds ‘Rowdies’ - Tampa Bay Business Journal
- Breakfast Bonus - Tom McEwen - Tools - from TBO.com Blogs
- The Tampa Bay Bandits don't know where they'll play in - 06.03.85 - SI Vault
- "MLS fold Mutiny" - St. Pete Times
- "Mutiny Renews Lease" - St. Pete Times
- "Miami, Tampa fight to keep MLS teams" - Sports Illustrated Dec. 2001