It's summer in Central West Florida, and triple-digit heat index numbers are expected on Saturday. It may be the perfect morning and afternoon to take advantage of the nearby beaches and water parks.
On this special Saturday, however, you can do all of that and still spend your evening with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as the temperature cools down, at the team's highly-anticipated FanFest event at Raymond James Stadium.
Ah, the joy of living in the Tampa Bay area! This weekend, you can get the best it has to offer.
The 2010 Buccaneers FanFest presented by Bright House Networks is the most popular event on the team's offseason schedule, and for good reason. The event, which this year begins at 4:30 p.m. and concludes at 9:00 p.m., is an unmatched opportunity for fans, players, coaches and cheerleaders to make contact and share their excitement for the upcoming season.
"We're trying to open up to our fans," said Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik. "Every player is going to sign autographs, the cheerleaders are going to sign autographs, we're going to have events and performances, we'll put all the coaches on the stage and talk about what we're trying to accomplish. It's an event to come out and get up close and personal with the team, and it's a chance for the players to say thank you for supporting them."
Even though FanFest has already developed into a can't-miss outing for the most passionate Buccaneer fans, the team still strives to make it better each and every summer. This year, in addition to moving the event to the evening for the first time, the Buccaneers and their sponsors will present the most jam-packed FanFest yet.
The well-organized autograph sessions will return, providing fans with an opportunity to interact with virtually every player on the team as well as Dominik, Head Coach Raheem Morris and some noted Buccaneer alumni. The Bucs have also extended the popular Coaches' Corner talk to three separate segments, loaded the Raymond James Stadium playing field with interactive games for kids of all ages, opened the famed Pirate Ship for tours and scheduled two separate performances by the new 2010 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad.
Opportunities such as these annually attract tens of thousands of fans to the stadium for FanFest; last year's crowd was estimated at approximately 30,000. Since much of the activity takes place on the field - in addition to the interactive games, there are dozens of sponsor tents with giveaways and samples lining the sidelines - the Bucs hoped to make the experience more pleasant for everyone by moving it to the evening.
"We thought it was an opportunity just to get the fans out of the heat," said Dominik. "We've previously done it between 10 and two o'clock but we wanted to cool it down a little bit so more fans could come out and be able to plan around it. We think it's going to be a great opportunity for them to do so."
Fans attending FanFest can also pose with the Buccaneers' Vince Lombardi Trophy from their 2002 Super Bowl Championship. Those considering purchasing season tickets can wander the stands at their will, checking out any open seat and its sight angles. A crew of Buccaneer ticket office staffers will be on hand for this Select-A-Seat event, prepared to process orders on the spot.
Plus, in addition to the sponsor giveaways, there will also be discounted food and beverages at the concession stands; that, coupled with the event's free admittance, makes FanFest an extremely affordable way for the whole family to spend an evening of fun.
Of course, the chance to gather autographs from the team's most popular players remains perhaps the single biggest FanFest draw for fans. There will be two separate two-hour autograph sessions, with the majority of the team gathered at one station in the West Concourse. There will also be four separate autograph stations inside the Club Lounges, each featuring a quartet of the most prominent Bucs during the two sessions (5:00-7:00 p.m. and 7:00-9:00 p.m.). Entry to these stations requires a free voucher, and those vouchers will be distributed at the stadium's exterior ticket windows between gates C and D. The voucher windows open at 4:00 p.m. and lines generally form prior to their opening.
To see which players are expected to be at which stations and when, please visit our FanFest information page. This information is subject to change, but the Buccaneers will be making a particular effort to introduce their nine 2010 draft picks to the fans, including first-round defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who is scheduled to sit in the general (non-voucher) session for the entire four hours of the two sessions.
"We're really proud of this draft class," said Dominik. "We're really proud of the direction that we started with this organization last year with the foundation of Josh Freeman and building on it. It's our chance to say hi to the fans and let them interact with this new draft class, let them interact with Gerald McCoy and Rejus Benn and Mike Williams, Brian Price and all the guys in the draft class."
The Bucs will provide autograph cards but fans are also allowed to bring their own items.
"You can have a 1976 hat that you've always wanted to have signed and we'll take care of it," said Dominik. "We encourage that. It's a free event and we want everyone to take advantage of it. You can be two to 82 - there's something for everybody. We just want you to come out so we can say thank you for following the team."