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National Championship To Draw Up To 100,000 Visitors To Tampa Bay Area

Just outside the ACC Championship in Orlando, Jerry Edwards is holding court. Known as Hollywood, Edwards says he'll travel anywhere for a Clemson football game.

"I'm Hollywood, baby. I'm Hollywood,” Edwards says. “Do you need to know any more?"

With a bright orange Mohawk to match his sweater and shoes, Hollywood has to wait until Saturday to learn if his Tigers will beat Ohio State University to make the 2017 College Football National Championship in Tampa on Jan. 9.

If they come, so will Hollywood.

"Wherever Clemson is that's where I'm at. Every home game every away game, I am there,” Edwards said. “With the Mohawk baby. With the Mohawk."

Tampa can expect more Mohawks and mascots, foam fingers and marching bands when college football's most rabid fans come to town.

The city has hosted college football games and bowl games in the past. And while Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls, it's never been on college football's biggest stage. It’s the last game of the season -- winner take all.

The championship is really a multi-day party throughout the Tampa Bay Area. 100,000 extra visitors are expected.

The tailgates will be bigger and better than other bowl games. Pre-game concerts feature headliners like Usher and Flo-Rida. And the game will include all the theatrics of college football, including passionate fans, like these Clemson faithful at the ACC Championship earlier this month. 

Defending national champions Alabama are vying for a return visit and if they make it, Tampa Joe's in the Westchase area is ready for a massive parking lot party. For the Crimson Tide to get back to the National Championship, they need to roll over the University of Washington Huskies.

"It's gonna be one heck of a day obviously,” said Sandy Queen, owner of Tampa Joe’s. “We're planning on 800 to 1,000 people."

Queen said if Alabama wins and the event happens, it will not only help his bottom line but also benefit vendors he contracts with.

"We've already secured the tent and we've already secured the beer truck and the port-a-potties and the liquor license to do the parking lot,” Queen said. “We've secured all the main items that we need."

Those traveling to Tampa for the game are in for a pricey trip. Tickets start at $450 for upper level seats and climb to $750. And that's if you're lucky enough to score some from an official source. Ticket scalping websites were charging up to $2,500 dollars per ticket.

There's also the airfare, hotel rooms, food and plenty of libations. It all means money for the local economy, said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission.

When the National Championship was held in Dallas and in Phoenix, officials there reported $300 million flowed into their local economies.

"Our goal isn't just to get these events one time, it's to get them back,” Higgins said. “That's how we judge ourselves in terms of being successful."

Higgins expects fans to book about 60,000 hotel room night stays in Tampa and along the beaches and elsewhere in Pinellas County. Some hotels are already at or near capacity and that's before anyone knows which teams are playing in the game.

Higgins says Tampa is poised to make a great first impression ... even for guys with orange mohawks. That is ... if Hollywood's team makes it.

“No, no, no, not a might,” Edwards said. “We will be there and I'll be there with the mohawk.”

Newspapers were my first love, but public radio stole my heart from the moment I tuned in during college.
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