Last year was a great one for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Unfortunately, it was also one most of the fan base missed due to COVID-19 restrictions and eerily quiet NFL stadiums across the country.
While fans were largely unable to witness their favorite players in person, they still had games to watch at home, a blessing during a time of isolation for many.
Major brands got in on the action as well with Pepsi launching their “made for football watching” campaign. Now, with fans returning, one of the top game-day staples in America is partnering with NFL players to keep the party going, even as it makes its way back into stadiums.
“It’s been great to work with Pepsi,” Buccaneers linebacker Devin White told me in a conversation ahead of the team’s Week 1 match-up against the Dallas Cowboys. “...football and Pepsi (are) two of the greatest things in the world, so I’m glad that I could team up with them.”
Pepsi has found a way to make it more about commercials though. Not only do they have some of the favorite faces and talents from around the league involved, but those athletes are also giving something fans can carry into their own game-day traditions.
For White, it’s his lemon pepper wings. Something he got excited about, just mentioning it.
“Pepsi has a rich history with the game of football, and, like any true fan, we take game day seriously. We’re excited to give fans across the South even more reasons to get amped up this season and enjoy the day unapologetically watching every play no matter where they are or who they are with,” said Jenny Figueroa, Senior Director of Marketing, South Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America (South Division).
Of course, fans are looking to get back into stadiums this year, and Buccaneers fans who missed out on seeing their Super Bowl squad in person are especially excited. They aren’t the only ones, either.
“I’m very excited to have fans back in the stadium,” White said. “...fans make it even more of a game just because of the camaraderie. Just the loudness (on) third downs, getting them up on their feet, having home field advantage...it has a major impact on the game within itself.”
White is always ready to play. While he believes fans make the games better, he knows he has a job to do, and he’s there to do it no matter how many people are in the house to witness it firsthand.
Commonly referred to as ‘motor’ is turned all the way up for a player like White, and it’s one of the reasons he’s become a fan favorite and media focus in less than three year’s time. In a recent episode of the Locked On Bucs Podcast, James Yarcho even went as far as to predict White would be the 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
“I approach it in the manner that I know I’m a player that’s capable of winning awards like that,” White said when I asked him about season goals like that one in particular. “Also, just trusting my coaches and just trusting the scheme that I play in that it’s going to present the opportunity to go make big-time plays.”
Plays, highlights, wins, and losses. Fans make up one-third of what I call the entertainment triad of football. Without them, you, it just felt like something was missing in 2020.
Fans won’t be missing anymore, and Thursday night Raymond James Stadium is set to be packed for a regular-season game more than it has been in my seven years covering the team. Talk about exciting.
On and off the field Buccaneers fans have a tendency to become connected to their favorite players, and recognizing this communal atmosphere, Pepsi took their involvement a few steps beyond even enlisting White as a face of this year’s outreach message.
Today, Pepsi Stronger Together is donating 2,000 meals from local restaurants Bubbaque BBQ, Harpoon Harry’s, Datz, and Grove to thank workers at HCA Brandon Regional, Advent Wesley Chapel, and Baycare St. Joseph Main Hospitals in the Tampa Bay area.
On September 10th, they’re hosting the final stop of their Coastal Conservation Ops tour with Force Blue conducting a community beach clean-up effort and removing marine debris and ghost gear at Anna Maria Island.
Football is back, and the efforts to connect the game to its fans, and their communities, are stronger than ever.