How Tom Brady’s return impacts Tampa Bay’s economy, from tickets to tourists

Tom Brady’s surprise announcement that he was un-retiring for a third season with the Buccaneers didn’t just delight Tampa Bay fans eager for one more run at the Super Bowl.

In an instant, it meant another year’s worth of economic tailwinds from his presence.

From increased merch and ticket sales to potential tourism gains, Tampa Bay should see windfalls big and small throughout the coming season as the Bucs retain their spot at the center of the NFL landscape.

And unlike, say, a new stadium built with incentives or taxpayer funds, the cost of Brady’s return is all on the Bucs. Any positive impact the community sees this season is essentially on the house.

“The economic impact of sports definitely exists, but it sometimes is not enough to justify the public expenditures,” said Christopher McLeod, an assistant professor with the department of sport management at the University of Florida. “The great thing about Tom Brady coming back is I don’t see any way that the public’s spending money on that. So his decision provides some benefits that nobody’s paying for.”

Related: Why Tom Brady returned to the Bucs

For the Buccaneers, Brady’s return sent the team’s sales and marketing arms into high gear. Splashed across the front page of the Buccaneers’ online store: “TOM BRADY IS BACK! SHOP HIS GEAR.” Not that fans needed the extra encouragement; Brady’s No. 12 was the official NFL shop’s top-selling jersey in 2021.

Heads and Tails, a sports apparel shop on Kennedy Boulevard, has an order of new Brady comeback T-shirts coming in next week. On the front: “THANKS GISELLE.” On the back: “UNFINISHED BUSINESS.”

It’s a big difference from early February, when the shop thought it might have to cancel a huge order of Brady merchandise due to his retirement.

“We’re seeing everybody re-energized about the team now that he’s coming back,” owner Stephen Sherman said. “And this time of the year is really not a huge focal point for us, as it relates to football. But the fact that people are coming back in to talk about the Bucs again is great, especially five months before the season’s even going to kick off.”

Related: What Tom Brady’s return to Bucs meant to the sports betting market

The Bucs this week opened their window for upgrades and relocations among existing season ticket holders, and will then move on to waitlisted orders for new passes. There will be plenty. In 2019, the year before Brady’s arrival, the Bucs averaged 51,898 fans per home game, equal to about 79.1 of Raymond James Stadium’s capacity. In 2021, attendance shot up to 65,878 fans per game, or 99.3 percent capacity.

While the NFL’s full 2022 schedule won’t be released for several weeks, and the team doesn’t typically share specific data on ticket demand, a team spokesperson said the immediate reaction was similar to 2020, when Brady first announced he was coming to town. Just like last year, season tickets are expected to sell out.

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“Tom’s announcement has our organization and entire fan base excited and energized for what is already one of the most anticipated seasons in our history,” Buccaneers chief operating officer Brian Ford said in a statement. “We expect our fans to continue making a sold-out Raymond James Stadium the best homefield advantage in sports this upcoming season.”

If non-season ticket holders want in, it won’t come cheap. According to online ticket marketplace Vivid Seats, average resale prices for Bucs home games shot from $113 in 2019 to $308 last year. Brady was also a big draw on the road, where resale tickets to Bucs games rose from $87 to $249.

Last season, Hillsborough County saw a notable uptick in hotel bookings on Bucs home-game weekends. From Week 1 through the playoffs, local hotel occupancy on the nights before and after Sunday home games was more than 13 percent higher than road or bye weekends, according to data provided by Visit Tampa Bay. Bookings were also up around the team’s Thursday and Monday night games.

You can’t attribute that bump entirely to fans flying in for Brady and the Bucs. But it’s plausible, McLeod said.

“An incremental visitor is someone who comes just for the event or the team or the stadium, and wouldn’t come for any other reason,” McLeod said. “Their spending related to the event is a pretty key component of economic impact. If Tom Brady brought in incremental visitors, then he would have an economic impact.”

Related: Florida’s spring training is back. Has Tampa Bay tourism moved on?

There have been studies about the economic impact of a single athlete on a franchise or local economy, McLeod said, but most have centered on NBA players. Brady, he said, is the rare NFL athlete in the class of someone like LeBron James or Michael Jordan, who can “increase ticket sales above and beyond the contribution to wins, so they have special value.”

Brady’s brand as an A-list athlete transcends geography; whose Instagram feed regularly draws appearances and comments from the likes of Hugh Jackman, Michael Phelps and, recently, soccer icon Cristiano Ronaldo, the most-followed Instagram user in the world.

Brady is the rare American football player to rank among the world’s highest-paid celebrities. He’s made at least $121 million on and off the field since coming to the Bucs, according to Forbes, and he’s due another $51.2 million from the team between this year and 2025. (And lest we forget, Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen, perennially ranks among the world’s highest paid models, pulling in an estimated $10 million in 2018, the most recent year in which Forbes calculated her salary.)

All of this has led some local businesses to hitch a ride to Brady’s wagon, too.

Related: Tom Brady has brought ‘tens of millions of dollars’ in commercials to Tampa Bay

In honor of Brady’s return, Tampa radio station WBPP-98.7 FM temporarily changed its name from “98.7 The Shark” to “98.7 The Goat.” Program director Ted Cannarozzi said the response to the marketing gimmick was “incredible” from “Bucs fans whose lives were turned around with the Sunday news.”

That enthusiasm extended to those buying air space on the Goat.

“It’s definitely stimulated conversations with new and existing clients,” said Steve Triplett, market manager for the station’s owner, Beasley Media Group. “Several of our advertisers are interested in talking about ways to weave this into their marketing and promotion. Too early to tell if any new business will evolve out of it, but I suspect it will.”

Other local media companies have also benefitted from Brady’s presence. Of the Tampa Bay Times’ 100 most clicked-on stories since the start of 2020, eight directly mention Brady in the headline — as many as Ron DeSantis and Joe Biden combined.

Brady’s own businesses, which occupy plenty of space on his social feeds, are headquartered elsewhere — Brady Brand and Autograph in Los Angeles, and TB12 Sports in Foxboro, Mass. But there is a TB12 facility in Tampa, and another was just announced for West Palm Beach.

“It certainly seems that rather than losing some of his spending to somewhere else, you’re keeping at least a portion of it in Tampa,” McLeod said.

Should Brady comes back for an additional year, the Bucs have another potential merchandising bonanza at play. The team has announced it’s bringing back its old-school orange jerseys, last seen in 2012, for select throwback games in 2023. The jerseys were expected to return this year, but supply-chain issues forced Nike to push them back.

One can only imagine the sales number a Tom Brady creamsicle jersey might pull.

“It would be ridiculous,” Sherman said. “It would blow it out of the water.”

Still, even if Brady plays just this coming year, it means at least a few more months of global buzz, and a chance for Tampa Bay to capitalize on a zeitgeisty sports-culture moment that just entered its third year.

Bob Buckhorn is seeing it firsthand. The former Tampa mayor was having lunch in Ybor City recently when a woman walked up to his table. She told Buckhorn, who now works for Schumaker Advisors Florida with a concentration in economic development, how excited she was for Brady’s unexpected return, and for all the additional benefits it might bring the city. Buckhorn agreed.

“Every little bit helps,” he said.

Times staff writers Sue Carlton and Joey Knight contributed to this story.

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