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Raymond James Stadium was built to replace Tampa Stadium at the demand of the new Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer. It is located adjacent to the site of the old stadium on the former location of Al Lopez Field, a minor-league baseball stadium that had been demolished in 1989. Once completed, the final cost of the new stadium was $168.5 million, with the entire cost publicly financed.
It was known as Tampa Community Stadium during construction, but the naming rights were bought for US$32.5 million for a 13-year deal by St. Petersburg-based Raymond James Financial in June 1998. On April 27, 2006, an extension was signed to maintain naming rights through 2015. In May 2016 the Buccaneers announced that the naming rights were extended an additional 12 years ensuring that Raymond James Financial's name will continue to appear through 2028.
The stadium officially opened on September 20, 1998, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defeated the Chicago Bears, 27-15. The stadium hosted its first soccer game on March 20, 1999, when the Tampa Bay Mutiny lost to D.C. United, 5-2.
Through to the 2009 season, every Buccaneers game at Raymond James Stadium sold out. In 2010, no home game achieved a ticket sell out, so none could be broadcast on local television. The streak carried over until week four of the 2011 season, when it sold enough tickets for its Monday night game with the Indianapolis Colts on October 3 to avoid a local blackout.
One of the most recognizable features of the stadium is a 103-foot (31 m), 43-ton steel-and-concrete replica pirate ship in the north end zone. Each time the Bucs score points, enter the other team's red zone, or win a home game, the replica cannons on the ship are fired off. The cannons fire once for each point scored. In addition, when the Buccaneers enter their opponent's red zone, stadium hosts hoist team flags around the perimeter of the upper deck. During various times throughout the game, the song "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me)" is played on the stadium public address system (taken from Pirates of the Caribbean), which signals patrons on board the ship to throw beads, t-shirts, and other free prizes to the people below. The segment is also known as a "Mini Gasparilla" to most fans. An animated parrot sits on the stern of the pirate ship. Controlled by radio and remote control, the parrot picks fans out of the crowd and talks to those passing by.
The two "Buc Vision" 2,200-square-foot (200 m2) Daktronics video displays were among the largest in the league when they were built. In 2016 they were replaced with 9,600-square foot, high-definition video boards in both end zones. 'Buccaneer Cove' features a weathered, two-story fishing village facade, housing stadium concessions and restrooms. All areas of the stadium are ADA compliant.
In 2003, the corner billboards in the stadium were replaced with rotating trilon billboards and these were replaced in 2016 with new high visibility displays.
Raymond James Stadium boasts the second-best turf in the NFL, according to a 2009 biannual players' survey.
In early 2016, the stadium was given an extensive facelift. The most notable improvement was the replacement of the 2,200-square-foot (200 m2) video displays with state of the art, high visibility 9,600-square-foot (890 m2) video displays in both the north and south end zones along with the addition of a new 2,300-square-foot (210 m2) video tower in each corner. All together, the video displays cover more than 28,000-square-foot (2,600 m2), making Raymond James Stadium the third-largest video displays in the NFL. The original sound system and the stadium's luxury boxes were also upgraded. A second round of improvements are planned for after the 2016 season is complete.
The stadium is referred to as "Ray Jay" or "The New Sombrero", a spinoff from "The Big Sombrero", the nickname of Tampa Stadium. Somewhat derisively, it has been occasionally referred to as "the CITS", a name coined by long-time local sportscaster Chris Thomas which stands for "Community Investment Tax Stadium", referring to the fact that the stadium was entirely financed by local taxpayers.
Buccaneer game action at Raymond James Stadium
Immediately upon purchasing the Bucs in 1995, new owner Malcolm Glazer declared Tampa Stadium inadequate and began lobbying local government for a replacement. When the community did not move quickly enough to suit the Glazer family, the new owners openly contacted several other cities around the U.S. about possible relocation.
The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County came up with a plan to fund a new stadium as part of a "Community Investment Tax", which was voted on in a referendum in September 1996. As part of the campaign to pass the referendum, Glazer promised to pay half the cost of the new stadium if fans put down 50,000 deposits on 10-year season ticket commitments. The drive fell 17,000 deposits short, the offer was withdrawn, and the Bucs did not pay any of the stadium's construction cost.
On September 3, 1996, the voters of Hillsborough County approved, by 53% to 47% margin, a 30-year, half-cent sales tax to build new schools, improve public safety and infrastructure, and to build the Buccaneers a $192 million new stadium entirely with public money. The team signed a stadium lease in which the local government must pay for almost all of the stadium expenses while the franchise keeps almost all of the proceeds. Former Tampa mayor Bill Poe sued to stop the deal, claiming that giving such a "sweetheart deal" to a private business violated Florida's state constitution. A local court agreed with Poe, but the Bucs and local government appealed. Eventually, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled that the agreement was constitutional, and construction continued as planned.
On October 31, 1996, the NFL owners met in New Orleans to select the host site for Super Bowl XXXIII and Super Bowl XXXIV. Pro Player Stadium in the Miami area was selected to host Super Bowl XXXIII. Atlanta, Tempe and Tampa were candidates for Super Bowl XXXIV, with Tampa the favorite, following the successful tax referendum. The Georgia Dome in Atlanta, however, was awarded the game. As a compromise, Tampa was awarded Super Bowl XXXV, which the NFL had not originally planned to select that day.
The last Major League Soccer game played at Raymond James Stadium was on September 9, 2001 when the Mutiny lost to the Columbus Crew, 2-1, in front of 9,932 people. Although the September 11 attacks resulted in the cancellation of the remainder of the 2001 MLS regular season, the Mutiny did not have any more home games scheduled anyway. The Mutiny were subsequently disbanded by the league. National-level soccer matches are still occasionally played at Raymond James, as its wide field makes it ideal for hosting soccer.
In April 2003, the Tampa Sports Authority proposed passing ownership of the stadium to Hillsborough County to avoid having to pay millions of dollars in property taxes (The Bucs' lease agreement dictated that they not have to pay property taxes). However, Bucs had a right of refusal and refused to sign off on the plan unless the local government paid more of the cost for game-day security and increased the amount of (county-purchased) insurance coverage for the stadium. The dispute continued for months until December 2003, when the county legally declared the stadium a condominium and took ownership. As part of the change, the Bucs were given ownership of portions of the structure. To win the Bucs' approval, the county agreed to refund the team's resultant property tax payments annually.
After a nearly two-year legal battle, the Tampa Sports Authority came to a settlement with popular sports-seating and telescopic platform/bleacher company Hussey Seating of North Berwick, Maine. Following the stadium's opening in 1998, roughly 50,000 Hussey-manufactured seats at Raymond James Stadium began to fade from their original color - a bright, vibrant shade of red - to a shade of washed-out pink. Spotting this obvious defect, the Buccaneers organization pleaded to the TSA to sue the seating manufacturing company for the cost to replace the affected chairs in 2003. Initially, in May 2004, after testing samples of the seats, Hussey Seating did not find any cause for the fading, and thus, found no reason to replace the seats at the company's cost under the current 10-year warranty. After the TSA cited a portion of the warranty which did, in fact, state that Hussey would replace seats if any fading were to occur, Hussey president Tim Hussey admitted an error in the research and eventually would come to a $1.5 million agreement with the TSA to replace the problem seats. Reportedly, the seat-fading occurred due to a manufacturing error by Hussey, as a UV inhibitor - a sunscreen-like component for the plastic - was forgotten in the mixture used to create the seats. All of the problem seats were replaced by new, non-pink seats in the spring of 2006.
In December 2015, the Buccaneers and the Tampa Sports Authority reached an agreement to complete over $100 million in improvements and renovations to the stadium. The negotiations took months, and were extended by Bucs' lawyers demanding additional concessions after an agreement was near in September 2015. In the end, the upgrades were paid with at least $29 million of public money, with the remainder paid for by the Bucs in exchange for the right to play a home game at another site beginning in the 2018 season and other concessions. Renovations began in January 2016, and the first phase was complete in time for the 2016 football season.
Panoramic view from The Pirate Ship during the 2009 off-season