New Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke makes good on promise to buy season tickets
Soon after he was announced as the Tampa Bay Lightning's CEO, Tod Leiweke said he was going to buy four season tickets, two up top and two closer to the ice. It wasn't because he was a hockey fan, though he is. Leiweke said he wants to understand the fans' experience, from the e-mails they get to the good and bad of watching games at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Leiweke was true to his word Wednesday, buying six season tickets, split three and three, before his introductory news conference.
Leiweke, 50, who comes from the NFL's Seahawks and highly regarded as a fixer and builder in the sports business world, hit all the right notes in his televised meeting with reporters in which he broadly explained how he wants to re-connect the team with the community (beyond winning some games), and they will be detailed in a story in tomorrow's paper. But the season ticket thing was a good promise kept. One person at the news conference said he read the original report about Leiweke's plans to buy and thought it was him just talking a good game.
But as Leiweke explained: "The fans are going to be at the to of the pyramid, and the season ticket holders will hold a really special place. If we can fill this building with passion that we saw here during that Stanley Cup run, it's going to help contribute to winning. So, we're going to do everything we can to fill this building and create a special environment. We're going to do it, though, with a great reverence for hockey. I love hockey. I respect it. We will never challenge any of the traditions in hockey. ... We're going to do it right. We're going to make a difference in the lives of the people in this community and we're going to do it together. That's a big promise that's going to take a long time to fulfill, but we're going to do it."
Leiweke said he has no specific timetable for when he will be in Tampa full time. He said he has pledged to help the Seahawks in their transition as they try to fill his position. It was clear, though, it may take several months before he is free of all his obligations in the northwest.
"I'm going to split time a little bit. Job one is that there is a graceful transition and I pass the baton in an effective way to my successor there," Leiweke said, and added, "I would think it won't be weeks, it might be more months. I'm obviously in a hurry to get going but (owner Jeff Vinik) has agreed that something really important to me is this transition and I'm going to have a chance to do it right."
The hiring puts a cap on what really has been a remarkable summer for the Lightning, from the revamping of its front office to the notable beginning of its on-ice makeover.
Let's put what this team has accomplished in perspective. First, remember it was not many months ago this team still had feuding owners and a general manager who openly feuded with his coach after the GM unilaterally fired an assistant and installed another. We also had players who never said anything on the record but in their private conversations were upset at the way the team was being handled, on all levels. And let's not forget Marty St. Louis threatening to ask for a trade if he did not like the fixes over the summer.
Now, the Lightning has an owner whose M.O. is to hire good people and let them do their jobs. He hired Steve Yzerman as his GM, which gave the team instant credibility, and Yzerman seems to have set the team on a good path with some savvy summer moves, including signing St. Louis to a four-year extension. Now, Vinik lands Leiweke. True, he had to give him a small ownership stake to help get him here, but Leiweke is one of the most respected leaders nationwide in the sports business community.
Let's not forget the proof will be on the ice and the concrete steps over time the team takes to mend its broken relationship with some in the community. But consider the take of Tim Leiweke, Tod's older brother, who as a governor for the Kings and as president and CEO of AEG, a sports and entertainment company that is part of the Anshutz Company that owns the Kings, also has his roots in sports business:
"I think they have as good a management team as anyone in the league and anyone in professional sports. ... I think it's a testament that (Tod) leaves behind what is arguably the most important league in the United States today, the NFL. He was held in high regard there and was very tight with the commissioner. So, I think people in Tampa Bay that question what kind of leader he's going to be and what kind of organization is he going to build, should understand the magnitude of the relationships and the job he just walked away from. That tells you a lot about what's going to happen in Tampa Bay."