Tampa Bay Sports Day

COLLEGE BOWL NOTEBOOK: Couple Helps Media Spotlight Shine on Tampa Game

TAMPA, Fla. — When the NCAA awarded Tampa a college bowl game in 1986, organizers knew to be successful they would need to generate positive press by cultivating a good relationship with the media in order for the new bowl to grow and prosper.

“That was one of the founding principles. Keep the press happy. They will write and tell good stories about Tampa and the bowl. Make sure their experience covering the game is the best it can be,” remembers John James of Neptune Beach.

He should know. He has been running media hospitality and helping with media relations from the very beginning.

Today’s Outback Bowl was originally named the Hall of Fame Bowl from December 1986 – to January 1995. The first Hall of Fame Bowl was played in Tampa Stadium between Georgia and Boston College lead. QB Shawn Halloran’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Martin gave BC a 27-24 win.

The Hall of Fame Bowl became the Outback Bowl in 1995. Outback Steakhouse sponsored the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville for three years before moving to Tampa as title sponsor.

John and his wife Donna create a great atmosphere for media in town to cover the annual game. The hospitality suite is open seven days during bowl week offering television, a full bar, refreshments and snacks including a post-game media party.

“We’ve had media parties at Ybor City and other venues. And one remember able one at Hooters in Tampa. The Hooters girls were giving massages to media members. Joe Namath showed up for the fun,” John said.

John and Outback Bowl Director of Communications and Sponsorships Mike Schulze go back together to the mid-1980s. John was a student at the University of South Florida. Mike, who also attended USF, worked in special events at the Tampa school.

“I’ve even seen John remember what a specific writer likes to drink who had been here five or six years before. He provides the exceptional hospitality experience you want so visitors leave with positive memories of their trip and the bowl,” Mike said.

The Outback Bowl mission is to generate a positive economic impact for the Tampa Bay area and showcase the region to a national and international audience. The game and events that surround the game adds to the quality of life for local residents.

“We are there to assist. Whether it’s directions, recommendations on places to eat and visit in the area, our job is to enhance the bowl experience for working media and their spouses,” John said.

This year media came to cover Northwestern of the Big Ten and Tennessee from the SEC along with the national contingent and ESPN, who televised the game. The bowl averages 500 credentialed media each year.

“Ohio State always seems to bring a large contingent of media. In all over 20 different schools have played in the bowl. This creates a lot of national media exposure for the game and the city every year,” John said.

John and Donna are retired Duval County teachers. John taught at Fort Caroline and Donna at Southside Estates. They are still active educators, tutoring students.
“We have seen the bowl game reach amazing heights with players, fans and become a favorite with the media,” Donna said.

The Tampa bowl has been a part of the prestigious New Year’s Day bowl lineup for the past 30 years. It features teams from the two most successful and popular conferences in college football – the SEC and Big Ten.

“John is the consummate host, helping guests feel at home from the moment they meet him. And he provides a familiar face for media who have covered the bowl in past years. We often have media compliment his service in our post-game surveys, and even when returning years later asking if he will be there when they arrive to the hotel,” added Mike.

This year Tennessee defeated Northwestern 45-6.