The Tampa Bay Lightning are offering a blueprint to the Rays and Buccaneers as to how to build a fan base in the Tampa Bay area. If you have read the national newspapers recently you would get the impression that this area is not capable of supporting any sports franchises, but that’s actually quite far from the truth.
The Rays are embroiled in a dangerous game of chicken with the business leaders in the area and the Bucs owners feel it more important to put their focus on Manchester United of the English Premier, which is understandable because United was recently recognized as the most profitable sports brand in the world rather than on the NFL franchise. Both the Rays and Bucs are having a hard time getting the support from the community in attendance, money from local business for sponsorships or season tickets and any sort of respect but the national media in any of the sports leagues.
The Bucs have had all but just a handful of home games blacked out on local television in the last two years, and if you listen to the statements coming out of the Rays you would think that their building was empty with no one showing up for any of their games. Well it’s time for those franchises to stand up and take responsibility for the way they are running their teams, because despite the excuses you hear from those teams, the Bolts are proving all of those excuses as nonsense if you do things the right way.
For the Rays, they claim no corporate support, but are they working hard enough to garner the support? The Lightning certainly are doing so, as they have announced in the last month deals with businesses such as Coors Light, PNC Bank, Little Caesars Pizza and BCBS of Florida. Those are not exactly “Mom and Pop” organizations, so are the marketing departments of the Rays and Bucs working hard enough? It certainly appears that the Bolts are pushing all the right buttons.
Both the Rays and Bucs talk of a lack of support from the community, yet you do not hear that from the Lightning. Instead, they continue to involve the community with the marketing campaigns. Last year they had the “All In” campaign and this year it’s “Be the Thunder” which are catchy campaigns that people will not soon forget. There have also been claims of attendance figures out of the NFL and MLB teams in the market place, well what do the Bolts do, take out about 1000 seats to put in an organ to improve the “Fan Experience.” If you were in the building last year, you witnessed a building attendance in the St. Pete Times Forum and this year the Lightning announced they doubled their season ticket base from last year to this year.
Let’s look at the ownership of each franchise. The Bucs’ ownership is divided across the pond with Manchester United, so you cannot tell me that the Bucs are not second class when you compare the two franchises. And frankly, it’s easy to understand why Manchester United receives the lion’s share of the attention, but it’s not necessarily fair to the Bucs or their fans.
The Rays off the field appear to be an utter disaster with what seems to be PR nightmare after PR nightmares as they criticize everyone in this community from the fans to the leaders and the business community. I say “appear” because I believe Stuart Sternberg is playing a very calculated game here, and he is trying to force his way out of this area whether it be to move the team to Orlando (for one example) or whether it be the same deal John Henry got from MLB when he sold the Marlins and bought the Red Sox.
Meanwhile, Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has come in from the start and voiced his support for the community and the area as a whole. He has consistently demonstrated through his actions – whether by hiring a hockey icon like Steve Yzerman to run the team or by committing $10 million in charitable donations to the area or by investing $40 million of his own money to renovate the St Pete Times Forum – that he’s dedicated to making hockey work in Tampa. Vinik and the rest of the Lightning franchise just get it, and the other professional sports franchises in this market could take some lessons.