TAMPA - Everyone calls it a convention hall, but in reality, the Tampa Bay Times Forum is nothing but an oversized TV studio this week.
The site of the Republican National Convention is a gathering point for the delegates and the party faithful, but the bigger audience - by far - is the roughly 40 million people at home expected to tune in Thursday night to hear Mitt Romney accept his party’s 2012 presidential nomination.
Everyone in the building except for him is just part of the backdrop for them.
That is why there has been such angst about carrying on in Florida when, further up the Gulf Coast, Isaac was crashing into New Orleans as a hurricane-force storm.
The sideways rain and 80 miles-per-hour winds were long past Tampa, leaving delegates dry and safe. But the thought of having the networks broadcast a split-screen image of storm clean-up and their political festivities prompted fears that the Republicans would be branded as insensitive.
That concern underscored that conventions are about doing something inside the hall that is well received beyond the arena itself.
Everything within the building is about the perception beyond it.
Here in Florida, as will surely be the case next week in Charlotte, N.C., scene of the Democratic National Convention, the dominant color scheme is an All-American red, white, and blue.
There is bright red carpeting marking the aisles between the delegate seating on the convention floor.
All the walls inside the arena have been draped in a blue sheen.
The family/VIP box for the Romneys is distinguished from that blue backdrop by red piping at its top, while signs - such as “Romney-Ryan 2012” or “We Built It” - stand out because of their white lettering.
Meanwhile, the video screens ringing the arena’s two upper decks project red, white, and blue images, most often an American flag. And the balloons hanging in the rafters for Thursday’s finale are - you guessed it - red, white, and blue.
The stage itself has a homey wood veneer and steps descending to the delegate floor, though anyone trying to ascend it at any point is likely to be arrested.
It signals approachability though not accessibility.
The array of video screens behind the podium are placed to project a stream of images to the delegates, but, truly, the only one that matters is the one directly behind the speaker.
On Tuesday night, it often displayed a swirling blue image, causing some to complain that it appeared on television as if the speakers were standing in front of a fish tank.
But that screen is pivotal because it provides a backdrop to the three television cameras that provide a single pool feed from the convention hall out to all the broadcast, cable, and Internet networks beyond its walls.
They are, perhaps, the three most important pieces of equipment of the convention, because through their portal, the country and the world will begin their final formulation of Mitt Romney’s image.
Those electronic eyes will ingest a view of a person set off against a carefully chosen backdrop and illuminated by racks of lights hung from the ceiling.
They will feed that image from the studio that is the Tampa Bay Times Forum to a much bigger audience tuning in - or logging on - to some form of screen elsewhere.