An interesting question arose in the comments last week while discussing the Rays use of “Tampa Bay” and whether they would ever switch to the “Tampa Rays” or “Florida Rays.” Specifically, we wondered which pro sports team was the first to use the moniker “Tampa Bay” in order to represent a more regional fan base.

The Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League were the first professional sports team to use “Tampa Bay” during an official game, having played their inaugural season in 1975. That was one year prior to the debut of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, Tampa was awarded the expansion football franchise in 1974, the same year Tampa was awarded an expansion soccer franchise.

So which team was first to be named “Tampa Bay”? Let’s dig a little deeper…

Tampa was awarded an NFL franchise in 1974, but a team name was not announced. In a move that would seem strange to younger sports fans, the NFL awarded Seattle and Tampa franchises before deciding who would own the teams. In fact, Hugh Culverhouse was not the original owner. That was Thomas McCloskey who quickly backed out of the deal. Culverhouse stepped in after turning down an opportunity to own the Seattle expansion franchise.

Although we cannot find documentation, we have been told by several people that Culverhouse solicited the public for team nicknames. It is unclear if Culverhouse proposed specific options to the public or if he took open requests. It does appear that the fans were only helping pick the nickname and not the regional moniker. Still, it is clear that no team name was official until well after Culverhouse took over the franchise in December 1974.

Turns out, the official naming of the Bucs came on February 15, 1975. Interestingly, that was one day after the Rowdies played their first game. So that makes it clear that the Rowdies were officially the “Tampa Bay Rowdies” before the Bucs were the “Tampa Bay Buccaneers.”

But when did Culverhouse pick the name “Tampa Bay Buccaneers”? Is it possible, the Rowdies were originally the “Tampa Rowdies” only to make the switch after learning of the Bucs decision to use “Tampa Bay”?

The earliest mention that we can find for the “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” is a Hubert Mizell column in the St. Pete Times dated January 31, 1975.

[Bill Marcum] became the first fulltime employee of the still-unnicknamed pro football baby…[Culverhouse] admitted that “Tampa Bay Buccaneers” is the leading candidate for a nickname.”

So the end of January, 1975 is the first time we hear anybody associated with the Bucs hint at a potential team name. So for now, we will use that as Day 1 for the Bucs.

But what about the Rowdies? Turns out, the Rowdies made their name official on November 20, 1974, the month before Culverhouse became owner of the Bucs. Interestingly, even though the subtitle in that column says “Tampa Bay Rowdies,” the author of the piece does refer to the “Tampa Rowdies” within the column. Kind of ironic for a columnist from a St. Pete newspaper.

So the Rowdies were not only the first team to play under the name, they also officially used the moniker “Tampa Bay” more than two months before the Buccaneers.

Here are a few other interesting tidbits we came across in this research

  • In this Buddy Martin piece in the St. Pete Times dated August 8, 1974, he referred to the nameless Tampa NFL expansion team as the “Tampa Bay Bananas.” So it is clear, that use of “Tampa Bay” as a moniker was not a radical idea in 1974 when the Rowdies chose their name.
  • In a move that sounds eerily familiar, the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce fought the naming of the Bucs because they thought “Tampa Bay” was too tightly associated with Tampa and that people were more likely to shorten the name to “Tampa Bucs.”
  • There was a campaign for the fans to refer to the Bucs as “The Bay Bucs.” The earliest mention is in a Mizell column dated February 16, 1975. However, we see the use of “Bay Bucs” in the St. Pete Times as late December, 1978. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune was much more stubborn, using “Bay Bucs” until at least July, 1984.
  • The first non-professional sports teams to use “Tampa Bay” probably belonged to Tampa Bay Tech High School.


  1. Bobby Fenton says:

    "In a move that sounds eerily familiar, the St. Pete Area Chamber of Commerce fought the naming of the Bucs because they thought “Tampa Bay” was too tightly associated with Tampa and that people were more likely to shorten the name to 'Tampa Bucs.' "

    Classic St. Pete chicken shit. Even back in 1975 they were as delusional as ever. Nothing changes.

    The bay itself, the actual body of water, got named Tampa Bay for a reason, folks, and it's what all of the area's professional teams should always be known as.

  2. Gus says:

    The Rowdies were originally going to play an indoor season as well (but not in Tampa, which had no facility), something the NASL took a few years to get around to. But when they did play indoors, they played in St. Petersburg's Bayfront Center. So that may have been some of the impetus behind the regional name.

    The Rowdies were a well run, well marketed franchise (they won the league title in 1975 and made the finals in two other seasons (1978 and 1979?)). If the Bucs and the Rays owe their regional moniker to them, then they should be thankful.

    I think is the only pure-regional name in the big 4 sports (every other team being named after either a city or a state). (I suppose you could argue Carolina Panthers/Carolina Hurricanes are regional in that "Carolina" taps into two state names). That is both a blessing and a curse sometimes.

    • Beth says:

      New England?

    • Indiana Rays Boy says:

      Once the Bucs and Rowdies came in the 70's then the Lightning, Mutiny and the (Devil) Rays in the 90's. Since the Mutiny folded in 2001 because they did not have any ownership that will buy the franchise. Currently, the Tampa Bay Rowdies have made a comeback this year in the NASL/USL; down the road I won't mind seeing a MLS franchise back in Tampa. Now, Tampa Bay sports franchises are looking bright with the Rays competing for a World Series title along with a deep farm system, the Buccaneers are building through the draft and currently going through the growing pains and the Lightning are currently building under a new regime with a young head coach and a GM that has a plan on building a team with young talent through the farm system and mixture with highly touted veterans.

    • KT says:

      The Rowdies actually DID play an indoor "season" (actually a tournament) before they ever played an outdoor game.

  3. Gatorbuc15 says:

    Very good story Cork. I had no idea that there was a pro team in Tampa Bay, before the Buccaneers. Let alone a professional soccer team!

    Just another fascinating part of Tampa Bay's sports history!

  4. Fascinating stuff. As a someone born in the 70's, I can't imagine a time before Tampa Bay was used for the sports team.

  5. Razzlegator says:

    Hey Cork,
    Have tried to get in touch with Tom McEwen? He probably knows about as much as anyone about the area's sports stories. He has a blog, and can be emailed from their. Just do a search using his name and that will bring it up. I can post the link if you want.

  6. Dave says:

    Thanks for the research and great story. We don't call you professor for nothing...

  7. Jim says:

    "The first non-professional sports teams to use “Tampa Bay” probably belonged to Tampa Bay Tech High School."

    I thought the first non-professional sport team to use Tampa Bay was the 0-14 1976 Tampa Bay Bucs?

  8. nate says:

    I don't have links to back this up but I'm pretty sure that the "Tampa Bay" name was the creation of the Tampa Sports Authority. Tampa was awarded the Bucs in 1974, but the Sports Authority began getting their ducks in a row years before this. So mark it down somewhere between 1970 and 1974. A city the size of Tampa was not large enough on its own to warrant a professional franchise so the Sports Authority marketed the area and not the city. By going with Tampa Bay, it strengthened their market pitch.

  9. Gus says:

    I think Nate is correct, but the only evidence I could find was Leonard Levy's contention (made in recollection, so it could be revisionist history) that they used "Tampa Bay" as a regional approach to the NFL's expansion committee when they got the franchise awarded in April 1974 to Tampa. In this version of events, Culverhouse inherited the "Tampa Bay" moniker from the civic group that won the expansion bid.

    See the article from Bucpower:

    • Cork Gaines says:

      interesting stuff. so even though the Rowdies were first team to use it, it may have been "invented" for the Bucs. So here is a question: Was the TSA also responsible for bringing a pro soccer team to the area? Is it possible that "Tampa Bay" was a name used with both teams in mind?

      • Gus says:

        I am reasonably sure that the NASL franchise was recruited with the help of the TSA guys, who had Tampa Stadium to fill up -- they expanded the stadium to 72K with end zones making the Sombrero shape for the Bucs, but were losing their prior tenant (University of Tampa football) at the same time.

        But the Rowdies were always going to play their indoor games somewhere else in the area (St. Pete's Bayfront Center or Lakeland's Civic Center) from the inception because Tampa had no arena, so the regional name was almost "required" for them.

        Does anybody else have a clue why ESPN guys (paricularly Scott Van Pelt) always indicate that the Rays are playing "where? Tampa." Is that some kind of inside joke? The MLB network and everybody else seems to realize that they are in "Tampa Bay", "The Trop" and/or "St. Petersburg". Just not accurate.

  10. Joe says:

    Awesome piece. The only thing that is different here is that the (Devil) Rays are the only Tampa Bay team to get their start in Pinellas. Besides the Lightning in the mid 90s spending a couple of years at the Trop (then Thunderdome), what is the big difference?

    There has never been an "asset" as a lease that has ever been an issue before, besides that the team was born in Pinellas. There will be no argument from me that Tampa is the anchor city, a term coined by my good friend Bobby Fenton above, that I wholeheartedly endorse. And this is the problem. Just how tapped out is Tampa and Hillsborough with all of their commitments? That in a nutshell is going to be the driving force in this upcoming litigation.

    There has never been an issue with a team/franchise looking to switch municipalities within the bay. The Lightning deal was prearranged and done in the time period prior to the awarding of the Ray franchise and happened to neatly fit as the Ice Palace was being constructed.

    Folks, this is not easy. And what makes it harder is the Rays non attention to the fact that the team is "Tampa Bay", rather than pitting Tampa vs. St. Petersburg. ESPN and their biased/lazy approach doesn't make it easy. The more pitting and adversarial the coverage is, the more St. Petersburg will dig in for the fight. I have no dog in the fight, rather than the Rays are MISPLAYING the hand here and have done a poor job, a horrible job of setting their case up.

    • Gus says:

      Hillsborough/Tampa is tapped out under existing revenues until 2026 or so, absent a new voter-approved tax. They (foolishly?) cast their lot with the Steinbrenners and built the Yankees spring training facility as well as the Ice Palace and Ray Jay all in a 4-year span in the mid-1990s.

      Pinellas did attempt to keep the Lightning by offering to finance an arena in the Trop parking lot in 1994; the owners played the local governments against each other and got a sweetheart deal in downtown Tampa that has been a bit of a financial loser for the TSA. Pinellas leaders were not pleased. Kind of a preview of the upcoming battle with a new stadium.

      Pinellas/St. Pete has a better chance to finance a new stadium as the tourist taxes come free in 2016. Of course, if the Rays want to play in Tampa, that makes those revenue streams irrelevant.

  11. Joe says:

    And that's the problem, Gus. By the Rays wanting to "talk" to Hillsborough, the way that the lease is worded, they might as well just break the lease and leave, because of poison pills in it, "talking" is akin to "leaving". That is why I don't get the media coverage and the fact no one understands what is about to happen in November between the Rays and St. Pete.

    You bring up a good point with the Lightning deal. The key difference is the 17 years left on the lease and the 7 years left on the bonds. There are exceptionally stiff penalties that have to be reconciled. Again, the why are the Rays in a rush, knowing the economical problems of the area? If they want to go to Hillsborough, they need PRIVATE financial backers on a huge level, and that won't be easy? DeBartolo? Just speaking out loud...

  12. Joe says:

    What I am trying to say is, that is it worth that much to "talk" to Hillsborough County right now? To the common eye, most would say yes. But I am saying, look at the road if that is indeed what they do. And if you "talk", it may be just as well as signaling your intention to "leave", hence the fact why St. Pete lawyers are gearing up. What I am saying is that this should have been better thought out by Sternberg and Silverman when they originally had bought the club and NEVER have proposed a St. Pete ballpark (even if they already knew it would be defeated). Was the waterfront initiative a deliberate "dot the i" move knowing they would lose, or were they keenly interested in the city?

  13. nate says:

    Phil Espisito was all over the map with the Lightning. Again, this is all from memory, but I think Tampa had preliminary plans for an arena at the site of Raymond James Stadium, and those plans fell through. Espisito went to Rick Dodge to see about fitting the Suncoast Dome for Hockey, but it was around the time that the City was making a pitch for baseball (which it lost to Miami and Denver), so Espisito had to settle on the fairgrounds for one year. I cannot recall the discussions the Lightning had with either city, but the Thunderdome was never meant to be permenant. To be honest, at the time the hockey team felt like a stop gap for the community until we finally got a baseball team. That's why there wasn't much public outcry about the Lightning moving back and forth across the bay.

    As for Sternberg & Co. they played all their cards right up until this year. The waterfront proposal was kind of their way of putting the issue into the hands of the community. Even though it didn't make it to a vote, the court of public opinion gave a verdict, and that basically gave ownership the ammunition to say that we had an opportunity to keep the Rays in St Pete, and expressed the desire not to do so. What happens going forward, who knows. The situation on the other side of the bay is grim. Disappointment may be lingering.

  14. KT says:

    Now if only the Rowdies could get their radio announcer to actually refer to the team as "Tampa Bay" instead of "Tampa."


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