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Hockey testing reaction to Dome

The Tampa Bay Lightning is conducting a telephone survey to gauge how a move to the Florida Suncoast Dome next season would affect the team's most ardent supporters _ season-ticket holders.

The team hopes to contact every one of its 4,500 season-ticket holders about a possible move to the Dome in downtown St. Petersburg, Lightning officials said Wednesday. The survey began Tuesday and will take about a week, the team said.

The Lightning wants to know whether season-ticket holders would want more, fewer or any tickets if the team plays at the Dome, said spokesman Gerry Helper.

"We're just asking: If the situation were to change, does your situation change and, if so, how?" Helper said.

The survey is further evidence that, three months before it is set to hit the ice, the team still hasn't decided where it will play its second season.

The only place Lightning fans are sure the team will be playing next year is Orlando. The team announced last week that it will play two preseason and five regular-season games at the Orlando Arena.

One question season ticket holders were asked is if they would be interested in visiting the Dome to see how it would be set up for hockey. The team held a similar open house last year at the Expo Hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds in an effort to sell tickets.

The Lightning already has notified season-ticket holders that it will play its home games at either the Dome or the Expo Hall.

It is unclear how the team's indecision is affecting ticket sales. Some people are renewing, but others are waiting to see where the team will land, said Missy Davis, a Lightning sales representative. "They want all this doubt gone before they commit."

So far, she said, the results of the survey are mixed.

"The people who are die-hard Tampa will not, absolutely positively will not, drive across the bridge," Davis said.

After considering and then rejecting the Dome, the Lightning played its inaugural season at Expo Hall. It still has a year to go on its lease there but has asked for improvements and a change in its concessions contract, fair officials said.

The team wants a bigger cut of the money collected at the Lightning Club, a pre-game dining hall set up in a tent outside Expo Hall. The team wants 60 percent instead of the 50 percent it got last year, said Mac Major, business manager for the Florida State Fair Authority.

Lightning Governor David LeFevre also asked the authority to add more seats and to carpet the stairways, Major said.

"It was a very friendly meeting," Major said. LeFevre did not indicate which way he is leaning and fair officials did not commit to any changes, he said.

"He's putting his facts together, I guess," Major said.

The team has said it is losing millions of dollars every year it plays at Expo Hall because the facility seats only 10,423. Because the Dome is bigger, the team could lower ticket prices and expose more people to the game.

But leaving the fairgrounds would cost the Fair Authority money.

The authority estimates it made $125,000 from the Lightning last year after investing about $500,000 in improvements, said Emma Taylor, acting executive director of the Fair Authority.

The fair authority would consider releasing the Lightning from its lease, Taylor said, but "we would have to look at what that would cost us."

_ Staff writer Robert Samek contributed to this report.

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