LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The Tampa Bay Buccaneers want more Bradenton-area fans to experience the action and intensity of professional football -- as well as the firing of the cannons for the ship in the north endzone, a ritual every time the Bucs score a touchdown.
The Bucs organization, which has a Southwest Florida sales presence in Sarasota, is promoting a new, local bus service to home games from Bradenton's Goodwill Manasota on State Road 70 and from 2571 12th St. in Sarasota across from Ed Smith Stadium.
Speaking to a packed audience Wednesday at the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance meeting, Buccaneers Chief Operating Officer Brian Ford told members he's looking forward to bringing the Bucs from "worst to first," referring to the team's 2014 last-place standing in the National Football League with a 2-14 record. As a result, the Bucs earned the right to the first overall draft pick for the 2015 season: 21-year-old quarterback Jameis Winston from Florida State University.
"I think we have the best fans in the NFL, and I think this is a great sports town," said Ford, who joined the Bucs organization in 2006, helping them earn consecutive top ratings among NFL
teams for consumer satisfaction in recent years.
"Our No. 1 mission is to bring the championship back to Tampa Bay. But, from a business side, we want to exceed our customers' expectations on a daily basis, which is a tough thing to do because we're in the entertainment business. And anything you do with disposal income, we compete with," Ford said.
He boasted about the team's offseason accomplishments, including hiring Dirk Koetter as the new offensive coordinator, a coach with 31 years of experience, most recently with the Atlanta Falcons; the signing of a long-term contract with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy; and drafting Winston, who will wear the Bucs No. 3 jersey.
Some marketing initiatives include a new "It's a Buc's Life" advertising campaign to coincide with the team's 40th season in the NFL led by head coach Lovie Smith; military appreciation promotions for local servicemen and women and their families; the Buc's Academy, which encourages reading and writing in 24 Hillsborough Title 1 public schools; and programs for female fan participation.
Following Ford's exuberant presentation, alliance members interviewed by the Herald said they are hoping for a better season ahead.
"I think it will be an exciting year. Everyone will be wanting to watch all the draft picks this year. I don't know if they'll be top notch, but they'll do better than last year," said Barbara Jones, from Sarasota accounting firm Kerkering Barberio.
"We're excited because of all the programs they have going for the fans," said Greg Smith, facilities director for the Mall at University Town Center.
When it comes to the Bucs, said Lakewood Ranch attorney Joseph Najmy, he always answers with his heart.
"From my heart, I hope they have a great season. Hope springs eternal."
Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance members, their family and friends will receive a special game offer for the Dec. 13 game, when the Bucs host the New Orleans Saints at Raymond James Stadium, to celebrate the alliance's 10-year anniversary.
More information about special ticket prices, as well as the roundtrip Bradenton-area bus service to the games can be found at buccaneers.com/tickets/swflbus.