Sunday, February 18, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay Lightning fall to NBA's Golden State Warriors in bid to be professional sports' best business team

The Tampa Bay Lightning fell short Wednesday night in its bid to be named the top professional sports business team of the year by SportsBusiness Journal, a national sports business industry publication.

Instead, the NBA champion Golden State Warriors won the honor, the franchise's second in three years, at the annual Sports Business Awards in New York City.

"It was an honor to be a finalist in the Sports Team of the Year category," Lightning CEO Steve Griggs said in a statement. "It's a testament to the great work performed by our employees over the past year.

"We congratulate the Golden State Warriors and will continue working diligently to deliver world class experiences to our fans and guests."

Griggs missed the Lightning's 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at home in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final to be in New York City for the award ceremony.

The Lightning represented the NHL in the category. The competition included three champions in their respective leagues: the NBA's Warriors, Major League Baseball's World Series champion Kansas City Royals and Major League Soccer's champion Portland Timbers.

Tampa Bay, which lost the Stanley Cup final in six games last season, and the Carolina Panthers, which lost Super Bowl 50, were the only finalists who fell just short of their league's respective championships. It's the first time the Lightning has been nominated for that honor by the sports business industry publication.

Boston hedge fund manager Jeff Vinik bought the Lightning in 2010 and has since spent millions rebuilding the team's roster and tens of millions renovating its home, the Amalie Arena. He has also rebuilt the franchise's reputation. Last season Jeff and Penny Vinik's Lightning foundation donated $3.1 million to 100 nonprofits.

Now his focus is on remaking the area around the arena. Jeff Vinik is planning a major $2 billion redevelopment of the 40 downtown acres he owns around the arena with Cascade Investment LLC, which is controlled by Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The first piece of that new development will be the University of South Florida's new 12-story downtown medical school tower.

To become SportsBusiness Journal's professional sports team of the year, franchises must display innovation in client and fan services, increased revenue, show social responsibility and brand enhancement.

Under Vinik's ownership, the Lightning were ranked No. 1 in last year's ESPN Ultimate Sports Rankings for stadium fan experience, the No. 1 team in the entire NHL and the third-best team among the major professional sports leagues.

"When Jeff Vinik bought that team, he changed the entire culture from top to bottom," said University of South Florida sports marketing professor Mike Mondello told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this week. "The fact that they've raised so much awareness for the sport in a nonhockey market sends a huge message. You go to any grocery store or mall and you see two times more Lightning merchandise than the (Tampa Bay) Rays or (Tampa Bay Buccaneers) combined, and that's no accident."

Success on the ice has also improved the teams' finances. For the first time in years, Lightning officials said they expect to generate a profit this season thanks to last year's playoff run to the Stanley Cup final. This season the team sold out all 41 home games, saw 97 percent of its full season ticket holders renew and sold out all 69 of its arena suites.

The Lightning were worth $260 million as of November 2015, according to Forbes magazine. The magazine also estimated team revenue at $121 million — a 23 percent increase in annualized value change.

"There are very few other owners I can think of that have created a fan base in a nonhockey market like this," Mondello told the Times earlier this week. "Vinik has created a new standard. It's something you're just starting to see the Bucs and Rays pick up on now."

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