You don't have to go back that far to see when the Tampa Bay Lightning organization was in disarray. Ownership and bad management had driven the entire franchise into the depths of the NHL. Just a few years later, new ownership, a General Manager with a plan, and a commitment to their fan base, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Lightning's turnaround began with the team being sold to Jeff Vinik in 2010. Vinik took over the Lightning franchise and dedicated all his efforts to making the fan experience top notch. By hiring Steve Yzerman as his General Manager and allowing him to build a championship caliber team on the ice, the rest of the organization from Vinik to CEO Tod Leiweke to President Steve Griggs have dedicated themselves and the organization to making the fans' experience one-of-a-kind. They have succeeded.
The Lightning, with the help of Jeff Vinik's money, have transformed the Lightning's home arena into a true home ice advantage. They removed seats to install a landmark organ at the top of the arena to help distinguish the arena as Tampa Bay's arena. The "Bud Light Party Deck" was also part of Vinik's renovation to the arena. This Party Deck has special food and lots of beer, and allows for great views both inside of the game and outside of the downtown skyline. Even every single chair was replaced with padded comfortable chairs to help the fans with their in-game experience.
Quickly, the Lightning brought about a new energy to their organization and a new engagement with their fans. The results were also quick. The Lightning began to win on the ice, the fans began to sell out the arena on a nightly basis, and the Lightning has been the lone bright spot during a very dark era for Tampa Bay sports.
While the Lightning are primed for a long-term run as a championship contender with such a young team and excellent management, is there a way for the Bucs to duplicate the success the Lightning has had?
With a team coming off just 2 wins in 2014, talking about the Bucs having success could lead many of you to laughter, but the Lightning were one of the worst organizations in hockey, and possibly all sports, from 2007-2010. Since Jeff Vinik took over in 2010, teams in the Tampa Bay area have been trying to copy the Lightning's blueprint.
Fans of the Buccaneers have heard the good things that might be coming their way. Major upgrades are coming to Raymond James Stadium. The Bucs have a true franchise quarterback that can help them win. The Bucs have a young roster full of players ready to breakout in a big way. The Bucs have hired new members of their organization this off-season who want to fully improve the in-game experience.
Now is the time for the Buccaneers to make those good things actually come true, much like the Lightning has done for their fans.
Those major stadium upgrades are projected to finally come next off-season before the College Football Championship Game comes to town in 2017. Improvements to in-game experience for fans, such as music, in-game entertainment, concession stands, and atmosphere need to happen immediately.
If the Bucs can mimic what the Lightning has done by making their fans feel welcome and fully enjoy their experience, despite a win or loss, more fans will continue to fill Raymond James Stadium. It's amazing how different an atmosphere can be when the stadium is full, compared to when it is half empty. More fans within Raymond James Stadium will lead to louder crowds when the defense is on the field, that could lead to better defensive play and turnovers, which would result in shorter fields for the offense, leading to more points, and hopefully, more wins.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, the Tampa Bay Lightning have made it look simple.
The Bucs need to come up with ideas their fans would like. Once those ideas are agreed upon, execute those plans and create a home field advantage, which leads to a much improved atmosphere. While you focus on the fan environment, allow your general manager and coaching staff the time to develop a young roster of players that can grow together, making you a legit contender year after year.
The optimist in me sees bright days ahead for the Bucs. I do believe major upgrades will make Raymond James Stadium feel special again. The addition of a true franchise quarterback will give fans a player to rally around. The rest of the Bucs roster is young on both offense and defense. There are cornerstone names such as Mike Evans, Lavonte David, Gerald McCoy, among others who could finally take this franchise to the next level on the field.
As for fan experience, that falls squarely on team ownership. I don't care what the Glazer family says in public, I want to know what they are truly thinking while looking in the mirror and fanning themselves with millions of dollars. Are they willing to do what Jeff Vinik did for the Lightning organization? Are the Glazers willing to go the extra 10 miles to improve the stadium and make the fans they once drove away, feel welcome back? Only they can answer that, and they can only answer it with their actions.
I think I speak for all sports fans in the Tampa Bay area when I say thank you to Jeff Vinik. Thank you for hiring the people you have hired. Thank you for what you have done already for this community. Thank you for what you will be doing for us in the future. Most of all, thank you for caring. It is amazing what can happen to a franchise when an owner truly cares about his organization's fans and is willing to go above and beyond to make those customers feel a part of something special. Hopefully, one day, the Buccaneers will be able to duplicate that kind of success.Subscribe to The Commish Online Podcast on iTunes!
Follow Bucs Blitz on twitter: @TBBucsOnScout