Tampa – For the first time in the NFL’s history, teams are finally reaching out, specifically, to the LGBT community. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are among those teams involved and will host an LGBT Community Gameday on Sunday, Sept. 14.
The celebration is essentially a tailgate party outside of Raymond James Stadium that incorporates Tampa Bay’s LGBT community, the You Can Play Project and the historic addition of Michael Sam: the NFL’s first openly gay player.
The Bucs take on the St. Louis Rams—the team that drafted Sam earlier this year—on Sept. 14 at 4:05 p.m.
“We’ve been trying to get this going for three years now and in January I got the go-ahead,” said Bree Parker, a group account executive with the Bucs organization. “Shorty after that, Michael Sam came out and was drafted. Holding this day when we play the Rams makes sense.”
It’s important to note that this LGBT Community Gameday is not a Pride night at Raymond James. That misperception initially caused some irritation among some community leaders, who felt the team was using the LGBT community rather than promoting it. But once the details were hammered out, Parker said more groups were excited to participate.
“I really wanted to promote this at St. Pete Pride in order to get the details out there, but that festival fell in a time when the Buccaneers organization was on vacation and everyone was out,” Parker recalled. “Next year I want us to have a presence there.”
The work has already started. Parker said she reached out to Eric Skains, St. Pete Pride’s executive director, to start the conversation about the LGBT Community Gameday. Skains put her in touch with several community organizations who were excited for the opportunity to finally blend the LGBT community with an NFL organization.
“Everyone is so excited about the laws changing in Tampa and in Florida to respect LGBT people,” Parker said. “We’re excited there will be a Tampa Pride next year and I’m encouraged that we’ll have a presence there as well.”
Parker said the idea for this event stemmed from the large number of LGBT season ticket holders and fans who attend the Bucs games each week. Building on that relationship just makes sense, she said.
Anyone wanting to attend the tailgate party may do so as long as they hold a valid Bucs ticket for that Sept. 14 game. A $5 donation per ticket will be made to the You Can Play Project, which encourages LGBT youths to participate in sports. That organization’s founder, Wade Davis, is expected to attend the celebration.
Usually, a tailgate party like this involves an additional fee, but Parker said the Bucs have waived it for this event, which will be at Lot 14. It’s also a chance for community groups to network.
“Because of exclusive deals with our sponsors, the groups can’t put up signs, but they can wear a shirt with their logo on it, pass out brochures or tchotchkes if they want,” Parker said. “Bottom line, we want folks to have a big party and have a good time before the game.”
Some of the LGBT groups planning to attend stretch across the state. St. Pete Pride, and the Orlando Metropolitan Business Association are both scheduled to attend. Parker is hopeful that more groups will join in to make the inaugural LGBT Community Gameday a success.
Barefoot Refresh will be on hand with wine samples and giveaways, and members of the Buccaneers organization will present games and other activities.
“Of course, anyone attending is invited to bring a football to throw around or a corn hole game, which is a huge tailgate game,” she said.
While the Bucs are one of the first NFL teams to reach out to the LGBT community, they unfortunately won’t be the first. The Miami Dolphins are planning a similar event during the preseason. But that doesn’t discourage Parker.
“We can say we have the first regular season LGBT event at an NFL game,” Parker said. “It’s exciting to me that we’re at the forefront of this.”
Parker is no stranger to coordinating LGBT events in sports. For seven years, she coordinated a similar celebration with Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals in D.C.
“What we did there was bring in about 800 or so people that first time,” she said. “We ended up with bringing in 4,000 people each time, and that’s because we sold out of seats. We would have had more if space would have allowed. Football is different. We have to do an event like this in the parking lot, which has room this year for 1,000.”
Attendees are encouraged to bring grills, games, chairs, tables and tents to the tailgate party and they can arrive as early as 1:30 p.m.
Tickets to the Rams vs. Bucs game start at $40 and can run as high as $130 for box seats. There is no LGBT-specific seating in the stadium, but the tickets will give entry to the tailgate party, which will have security monitoring it.
“I don’t think security is necessary but after the Boston Marathon bombing, we’ve stepped up our security everywhere,” Parker said. “We stepped it up for our fans and for our players. So there are normal patrols.”
For details or to order tickets, contact Bree Parker at 813-870-2700 ext. 2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.