Editor's note: In 2002, the St. Petersburg Times bought naming rights to the arena now called the St. Pete Times Forum.
I am an analyst by training. Years of combing financial statements and evaluating data have, in theory, refined my decisionmaking skills. Such was the process related to my pursuit of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
For much of 2009, I contemplated purchasing a professional hockey team, exploring all the alternatives. I spent dozens of hours researching the NHL, meeting with top sports executives and visiting various regions of the country, evaluating among other variables: history of success with sports and with hockey, long-term demographics of the area, quality of life, acceptance of newcomers and potential for success on the ice.
After several months of analysis, the top choice was clear: the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Tampa Bay region. Consider the following: great place to live and work; terrific demographics; strong history of fan support in sports; welcoming community; and excellent young and veteran talent on the ice. I'm happy to say the stars aligned and less than one year ago, I was fortunate enough to purchase your Tampa Bay Lightning.
Steve Yzerman, our Hall of Fame general manager, and Tod Leiweke, our chief executive officer, are both terrific leaders, possessing long-term track records of success. Steve remains the longest-running captain in the history of North American sports (an astounding 21 years with the Detroit Red Wings) and Tod simultaneously led three teams in the Pacific Northwest to greatness, on and off the field.
Like me, both are detail-oriented, analytical individuals and both thoroughly evaluated their professional and lifestyle options before choosing Tampa Bay. Steve and Tod share my belief in the potential of our hockey team and our region. We are "All In."
I am also pleased to report that in a recent survey of over 300 NHL players, Tampa Bay and the Lightning ranked fifth on a list of where players want to play. I can't help but continue to recite that result.
To borrow some vernacular from my day job, I am bullish on the Tampa Bay area. While I recognize the current economic downturn has been particularly hard on this region, I see no reason why our local economy won't resume its strong historical growth. As the business climate improves across the United States, baby boomers and young professionals will regain their ability to relocate. Our population growth will revert to previous levels, providing a foundation for economic growth in the years ahead. Additionally, the relative weakness of the dollar makes this area an incredible value for foreigners looking to vacation or purchase a second home.
Recently the Lightning held three news conferences. On the ice at the St. Pete Times Forum, we unveiled our vision statement (a world-class organization winning at the highest level and unifying Tampa Bay through the power of Lightning hockey and legendary events); new logo and jersey systems; and an innovative season ticket holder program. With Phil Esposito and Dave Andreychuk joining our corporate offices, we are respectful of the history of the franchise and hoping to become one of the most admired franchises in the NHL and all of sports.
On Feb. 1, at Metropolitan Ministries, we announced a $10 million, five-year commitment from the Vinik Family Foundation and the Lightning Foundation to the Tampa Bay community. At each game over the next five years, we will make a grant of $50,000 to a local community hero or corporate partner, and their respective charities, honoring all that is great about our region and its people. Furthermore, the Lightning and its employees are pledging 4,000 hours of volunteer time each year. My wife, Penny, and I, as well as the entire organization, strongly believe we have a responsibility to the community to touch people's lives and inspire others.
Finally, on Feb. 2, we announced a $35 million renovation to the St. Pete Times Forum, with the goal of making our venue one of the best in the country for hockey, concerts and events. We will create a state-of-the art arena for our players, business partners, employees, and, most important, our fans. This effort is unconditional on public funding and will allow the Times Forum to showcase our region and pay tribute to its heritage.
These announcements begin our effort to make good on my original pledge from last year — to make the Tampa Bay Lightning world class, on and off the ice. While we surely want to win hockey games and bring the Stanley Cup back to Tampa Bay, we also want to serve our fans and partners in a first-class manner and make a meaningful difference in this community. We believe we can accomplish our goals.
We believe Tampa Bay is indeed "Hockey Paradise," a place we are proud to call our home. We strongly believe the best days for Tampa Bay and the Lightning are in front of us.
Jeff Vinik owns the Tampa Bay Lightning.