Lightning Have Become A Top NHL Franchise Under Owner Jeff Vinik
The Lightning have "developed into not only one of the top attractions in the NHL, but they have emerged as perhaps the model organization in all of sports" under Owner Jeff Vinik, according to Jared Diamond of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Since Vinik bought the team in '10, the Lightning have "turned into a powerhouse," and are now the "overwhelming favorites to win the Stanley Cup, having just finished one of the best regular seasons in history." The Lightning have "sold out 200 straight games at Amalie Arena," while other warm-weather franchises like the Hurricanes, Coyotes and Panthers "struggle to fill three-quarters of their buildings." The Lightning's average attendance of 19,092 this season ranked sixth in the NHL, behind only the Blackhawks, Canadiens, Flyers, Maple Leafs and Red Wings -- "all traditional hockey markets." Vinik said, "This region has been under-managed, or 'under-potentialed,' and I thought there was a possibility to be part of a great growth story." Vinik "relocated from Boston with his family," despite having "no ties to Tampa," and has made it his full-time home. Since buying the team in '10, Vinik has spent about $75M on "upgrades to the Lightning's county-owned arena," with another $25M pledged by '30. From a "hockey standpoint, Vinik has focused on the grass-roots." The Lightning are "giving away 100,000 street hockey balls and sticks to kids in their market, as well as complete sets of gear to 500 schools." Team CEO Steve Griggs said that the team now has 15,500 season-ticket holders, "up from about 3,000" in '10 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/11).