TAMPA — As the Tampa Bay Lightning waits for the Boston Bruins to come to town for the next round of playoffs, the city's business community — members large and small — say it has already won the NHL postseason.
At WestShore Plaza this week, with blue and white banners surrounding walkways emblazoned with the stern visage of Steven Stamkos, it was a case of Lightning plenty ---- and envy.
The apparel manager at Dick's Sporting Goods, Steve Lowry, looked upon a wall solid with blue and white Lightning gear and said the hats, jerseys, T-shirts and other merchandise are selling out.
"Every time they win a game, a rush of people come in,'' Lowry said. "It's a frenzy right now."
Nearby Champs Sports has no Lightning swag.
"I wish we did. We'd be killing it right now," said manager Yeilyn Llera.
It's not just retailers who are feeling Lightning fever. The team's success acts like an international postcard for Tampa and the region, said Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.
People start to pay attention during the playoffs, he said, and attention is what every city is after.
Corporations looking to relocate take into account which cities have professional sports teams, he said. And reminding people that Tampa Bay has an NHL team is always good for business.
"You can't buy that kind of media exposure," Rohrlack said. "It's important to keep that high profile."
How many of those international viewers (okay, mostly Canadians) translate into hockey tourists?
That's hard to quantify, said Santiago Corrada, president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay, who looked at countywide hotel occupancy numbers during other recent Lightning playoff runs.
Though it's not a perfect apples-to-apples comparison because games fell on different days, the year-over-year occupancy rates were up and down through 13 home dates between mid April and mid June, but the year-over-year revenue numbers mostly increased between 2015 and 2016, according to hotel occupancy and revenue data.
Though what happens outside Amalie Arena can be hard to pinpoint, it's been all gravy inside for the Lightning.
Merchandise sales increased 67 percent through the first playoff round over the regular season, said Lightning spokesman Bill Wickett. Food and beverage sales were up 41 percent, he said.
And television ratings are skyrocketing as well. The team had a 5.17 rating through the first-round series against the New Jersey Devils, dwarfing its 1.83 regular-season rating. A rating point equals about 18,000 households and includes Fox Sun Sports and NBC coverage, Wickett said.
That bump was 23 percent higher than the one for the first-round series against the Detroit Red Wings in 2015 and 9 percent higher than the one for the teams' 2016 rematch.
Plenty of game-day fans pack Ferg's Live in the Channel district. And not all end up across the street at Amalie Arena. Many customers have asked that the giant LED screen in the parking lot make a return appearance, which it will starting in the second round, which begins Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena, said manager Sly Yusuff.
The popular bar and restaurant is ringed with construction for Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's massive new Water Street Tampa project. But hockey fans find their way through the chain-link fences for home games, Yusuff said.
"People will come here no matter what. On game days, it's rocking,'' Yusuff said. "Postseason is why we're all here."
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