The state of Florida is dominating the national stage right now across the four major North American sports. With the Rays on the way to the World Series, it is possible that a Florida team will at least participate in the championship in three of the four major sports.
The Tampa Bay Lightning captured the NHL’s Stanley Cup last month, the Miami Heat finished as the NBA runner up, following their NBA Finals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last week, and the aforementioned Rays will square off with the Dodgers in MLB’s World Series
Florida has an opportunity to compete for a title in the NFL this year too, as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in first place in the National Football Conference (NFC) South through five weeks of play. Led by quarterback Tom Brady, they’re expected to be in the mix for the Lombardi Trophy.
“The Tampa dominance in major sports has been like a dream,” Florida Southern student J.J. Niekro said. “The most exciting thing is that everyone in the Tampa area has been following the teams and it’s all the talk around town. Fans finally get to crowd around the TVs and have hope.”
It isn’t unprecedented for one city to dominate the sports limelight. Boston deemed themselves “title town” after winning championships in the NHL, MLB, and NFL in a span of four years from 2011-2014, for example. However, Florida has never experienced this type of success.
When the Miami Heat were on top of the NBA world in the early 2010s, the Dolphins, Marlins, and Panthers were bad. The outlook wasn’t any better in Tampa, where the Rays, Buccaneers, and Lightning weren’t title contenders. The Orlando Magic were reeling following Dwight Howard’s departure, and the Jacksonville Jaguars were a consistent bottom feeder.
“The last time Florida sports were dominant was the 2000s. That was all throughout the decade though, and we never saw all three Tampa teams be good at one time. Now, it’s like a dream come true,” Niekro said.
The early 2000s are really the only other time that might compare, but even then it didn’t come in one season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl in 2002, the Florida Marlins won the World Series in 2003, and the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
The Marlins didn’t make the playoffs on either end of their World Series victory, and the Buccaneers finished under .500 during their title defense. The Lightning were a playoff team in 2003, but they weren’t in 2002. Three titles for the state in three years was impressive, but they were mostly blips on the radar for those teams, and it was still across three years.
The Rays have the opportunity to make it two titles for the city in one year. The Buccaneers could make it three in one year, and the Heat were the runner-up. That is an impressive level of domination.
“I went to the Lightning boat parade and saw thousands upon thousands of people lining the river in downtown Tampa. It really felt like the world was normal again and gave me extreme peace of mind, even if for just one day, that things would get better soon,” Niekro said.
Florida fans are taking notice too. According to Forbes, The Rays and Marlins, two teams with notoriously unsupportive fan bases, saw 7% and 2% increases in local TV ratings despite ratings usually decreasing across the sports world. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the most watched NFL team this season. Local TV ratings for the NBA Finals are currently unavailable.
Regardless if the Rays win the World Series or not, this is a Golden Age of Florida sports.