The Tampa Bay Lightning is more than a hockey team. The National Hockey League franchise is a major corporate player and one of the most visible public faces of the region. That is what makes the rift between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie more than a private matter. They need to resolve who's boss and focus their energies on making the team and the franchise more successful.
It is embarrassing that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman saw the need to summons the pair to his New York office for a come-to-your-senses meeting last month. That shows a level of dysfunction at the top that could paralyze an organization.
As St. Petersburg Times reporter Damian Cristodero has reported, the pair's split is apparently over philosophical and financial differences — who has what authority, which players to sign and the like. Egos are a fact of life in professional sports, but they seem an apparently acute problem within this young and aggressive ownership group. That is not a good course for two businessmen who have yet to firmly establish themselves in the Tampa Bay area.
Koules and Barrie bring an unvarnished love of the game and sense of competition. But they need to recognize that the franchise is a community asset. Toward that end, the Lightning's front office needs to embrace the same culture of teamwork that it seeks from players and coaches. This is no stand-alone business, after all. The team plays in publicly owned St. Pete Times Forum (the Times has a long-term naming rights deal to the facility). The organization also holds the lease to the arena (the Times Forum was the top grossing venue in the world in January and February) and owns 5½ acres of land near the Times Forum in downtown Tampa's channel district. The Lightning is a major force in business and entertainment and a brand for the region with sports fans and corporate America.
The ownership group needs to figure that out and bring a sense of order quickly to the front office. Reversing a 29th-place standing in the league and declining attendance, managing the arena and creating a vision for the surrounding property will be tough enough in a recession without having the staff divided in its loyalties.