NHL 'strongly considering' Tampa for special event
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik has made it clear for years to NHL commissioner Gary Bettman that he'd like to host one of the league's major events in Tampa.
The last one in was the 1999 All Star Game at the then Ice Palace.
"Every time, he says, 'You're on the list,' and 'You're moving toward the head of the list,'" Vinik said. "We'll get one."
But when? It sounds like there might be some momentum for the Lightning and Tampa Bay to host a special NHL event sooner than later. A few reps from the league visited Tampa last month as part of a multi-city scouting tour for potential sites for the All-Star Game, NHL Draft, Stadium Series and Winter Classic Games, among others. NHL executive VP Steve Mayer said they've made no decisions, but hope to announce plans soon for 2018 and potentially beyond. And the Lightning pitch made a great impression.
"There's no question we are absolutely strongly considering Tampa in the mix," Mayer told the Tampa Bay Times. "The city can house a world class event. It's proving it time after time after time."
Tampa, which will host the NCAA College Football Playoff championship game Jan. 9 at Raymond James Stadium, has held four Super Bowls, two Frozen Fours, along with an NCAA Women's Basketball championship. That experience plays a role, Mayer says. But there's also the transformation of the Lightning franchise since Vinik bought it it in 2010. From the back-to-back lengthy playoff runs by the Lightning to the $100 million invested into Amalie Arena and soon $1 billion into downtown, the city will be a destination spot. Whether the amount of construction in coming years becomes a deterrent remains to be seen.
But the league-wide marketability of the franchise is "massively different" since Vinik took over, according to NBCSN broadcaster Pierre McGuire.
"They're right at the top of the food chain," McGuire said. "You're talking about one of the best ownership groups in all of sports. Vinik has transformed Tampa Bay Lightning into a very huge marketable commodity around the National Hockey League. I think Chicago is a huge measuring stick. Montreal is a huge measuring stick. Pittsburgh. I think Tampa is right there with them."
The Lightning hopes the "new blood" in Mayer, who joined the NHL a year ago, can make a difference. Mayer said Tampa is one of about 20 cities league reps have visited since he came on. The Lightning gave Mayer's group the "royal tour," from Amalie Arena and downtown Tampa to Raymond James Stadium and Bern's Steakhouse. Mayer noted the new Tampa theater, part of the Vinik construction, could be a great candidate for a future NHL Awards Show. Could the Lightning also host a Winter Classic or Stadium Series game?
"Without saying what we would consider, I think there's nothing that they couldn't do in Tampa," Mayer said.
McGuire, who has worked more than a dozen outdoor games, agreed. "After watching what the league did in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium I don't know why they couldn't do it at Raymond James."
There's still no guarantee Tampa Bay gets an event in the next go-around. Plenty of cities are in the mix. But it's hard to argue it's been in a better position than now.
"We think the time is right to be considered," Lightning VP Bill Wickett said.
Time will tell whether the Lightning gets its shot.