A mundane lunch somewhere in South Tampa. … Panini, caramelized onions. Beef and barley soup, low fat. Somewhere over a second refill of chilled green tea, you notice the entire cafe has filled with otherwise normal-looking lunchgoers wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan "seenstamkos.com."
They all seem to be jabbering about this Steven Stamkos.
Is he a new reality show star? A comedian playing in town? Is he running for city council? And why do these people like him so much?
In an era when "viral" homemade videos on YouTube and guerilla marketing campaigns take products to the people, the Lightning has taken a clever approach to generating excitement for its 2008-09 season and the player it will select with the first overall pick in the June 20 draft: Steven Stamkos.
Average Tampa Bay residents don't know the 6-foot-1, 180-pound center scored 58 goals and had 47 assists in 61 games for Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League this season, is ranked as the top prospect by Central Scouting and is the most heralded prospect since Sidney Crosby in 2005.
But they might find a business card with "seenstamkos.com" tucked under their wiper blade, see a billboard, a sidewalk graphic or bumper sticker. They might have their lunch blitzed by a "flash mob" of Lightning marketing staffers, and just maybe they'll click over to the Web site dedicated to its next star.
"We're just trying to have a little fun in the offseason," said Mark Gullett, Lightning director of marketing and promotions. "This is not necessarily a new approach for us because we've done some stuff like this before. So we're just trying to be aggressive and take advantage of some opportunities out there.''
Decidedly unglossy and low-budget (it could very well have been built by a fan), the site uses testimonials but mostly viral video to let Stamkos sell himself. The only giveaway the site, which the team says is getting visits from 5,000 unique users per day, is Lightning-backed is the use of its "Hockey Bay USA" logos.
"It's really hard to get professional video of him at this point,'' Gullett said. "We just took advantage of things anyone can find on YouTube. If someone clicks on that little 48-second (video of a breakaway goal) at the top, I think we've got them."
The NHL has started its due diligence into the proposed sale of the Lightning to Oren Koules' OK Hockey, league spokesman Frank Brown said Thursday.
That is a crucial step in a process that got a big boost last month when owner Palace Sports & Entertainment and Galatioto Sports Partners, a New York sports investment bank, announced they would provide about half of the financing for the $200-million deal.
Koules hopes the league approves the transfer of ownership before the draft.
Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.