The early beginnings of the New York Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay began in October of 2004 when three newly transplanted New Yaw'kas wearing New York Jets Jersey's, Steve Scott, Jonathan Oglio and Irv Cruz, ran into each other at, of all places, Lee Roy Selmon's, a sportsbar/restaurant owned by the former Buccaneer great.
Every Sunday over the next few months we would gather at Selmon's to watch the Jets game on one of the small TV's surrounding the bar... with no sound I might add, as the Bucs always had the single big screen and the overhead sound system.
Each week it seemed we'd see more and more Jets fans coming in to watch the game and of course, being friendly former New Yorkers, we started hanging out together to cheer on our Jets.
One day during the latter part of the season, as the Jets were making their run for the playoffs, I looked around and counted 17 people who we knew or who were wearing Jets green.
I'd had a couple of cocktails at this point and I decided right then and there to form a Jets fan club. I grabbed a pen and paper from one of the ladies at the bar and began going around the room to everyone wearing green and asked them to give me their email address so they can be a part of the new fan club I was starting. At first I got a few strange looks but everyone willingly gave me their emails.
Owning a Tampa Web Design and Internet Marketing business made it very easy for me to put up a quick web site. By the following Sunday, the New York Jets Fan Club of Tampa Bay was officially on the map (and the web).
As the Bucs were out of things come playoff time, and since we had become a bit of a force at Selmon's, we got first crack at the big screen for the playoffs and we all went nuts when the Jets pulled off that amazing win against San Diego.
After the season was over, with that heartbreaking loss to the Steelers, we all realized that we would never get the opportunity to consistently get the Jets on the big screen.
We completely understood too. After all the place was owned by one of the most famous Bucs players in history.
However, we still made a pitch to the management to set us up with our own area and perhaps a TV that we could turn the sound up on to watch the games on. Unfortunately, since Selmon's was owned by the group that also owns Outback restaurants, the management really couldn't do anything about it. We loved Selmon's but we loved our Jets more!
What the heck were we going to do?
During the off season, Peabody's Billiards and Games, a local Tampa hangout that we frequent and whose APA league sponsored billiards team we play on, began building a smaller "beta-bar" in the back of their establishment with a new big screen TV above it. When we saw the finished bar area we knew this could be the new home of the fan club.
Being regulars at Peabody's, we talked to the management about the Jets fan club and what we were hoping to do with it and asked if we could have control of the Beta-bar TV during football season. In turn we'd try to build the fan club, promote Peabody's in the process and try to pack the house with Jets fans. They agreed to give it a shot.
Home at last!
We let everyone in the fan club know that we were moving from Selmon's down the road to Peabody's. However, it was not an easy transition that first year. Selmon's was a lot of fun and everyone knows that change can be difficult sometimes.
Some people came over to Peabody's right away. However, watching the Jets at Selmon's wasn't the same anymore as many of the old crew were now at Peabody's. Others came after going to Selmon's for the first few weeks of the season. Once many of them realized that we now had a real "home" for the club they made the move.
To help the cause, I went ahead and had some free business cards printed up. I then gave them out to club members with one instruction... if you see someone wearing Jets colors.. give them a card and tell them about the fan club.
We began building up a few regulars that came every week without fail. However, as the Jets were having a tough year in 2005, it was not easy to get people to come out for the games. Thankfully, we still had the support of the weekly regulars and of Peabody's.
As the 2006 pre-season crept closer, Peabody's approached us and again asked if we still wanted the beta-bar to watch the Jets game at. Of course we said "Yes".
By this time we had a real mailing list for the club going and had a few more regulars to count on.
I printed up a bunch of much nicer cards to promote the club and a few of the club members went to the pre-season Jets-Bucs opener where we passed out as many cards as we could.
Thanks to my online marketing background, the fan club site was now getting ranked at the top of the search listings in Google, Yahoo, and MSN for search terms like, "new york jets fan clubs", "jets fan clubs", "ny jets fan club".
Because of this, we started attracting the attention of other Jets fans, many who were not even in the Tampa area.
As the season progressed and the Jets were winning, the momentum built.
We added a Blog to the site, took pictures nearly every week, and had a bunch of people who were members of the club bring friends and family.
We'd average 10+ members at each game with each member bringing a friend or two.
As the season ended we'd hit a peak of 55 people in Green for the wild card game. We lost the game but we'd won a lot of new friends who were looking forward to next season and the fan club.
As the 2006 season wrapped up for the Jets, the fan club officially had 40 people signed up to receive emails, newsletters, and other such information. We'll also try to arrange a few get together's during the off season... including one for draft day. However, right now we're turning our attention to the 2007 season.
Since a couple of the founding members were season ticket holders before moving to Tampa, the thing we miss most about going to the games is a real tailgate party.
I remember getting to the stadium at 8:00 am for a 1:00pm game and meeting up with 30 or so friends and family members from high school to grill, eat, drink, and catch up until kickoff.
Since this was such a big part of our regular game day rituals we've decided to try and organize a real Jets tailgate in the parking lot of Peabody's before the first game of the 2007 regular season. The owner of Peabody's loved the idea and we hope to be able to pull it off with the consent and help of the local legislature. Until then we'll keep trying to grow the club and bring other Jets fans together here in Tampa.
Let's go Jets!
J-E-T-S, JETS, JETS, JETS!!!