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Volume 21 No. 35
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Lightning’s Vinik puts name on USF sports management program in 15-year deal

The University of South Florida’s sports management program will further cement its connection to its founding benefactor this week when it announces a 15-year naming-rights agreement with Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

The deal will provide mid-six-figure funding annually, with about half of that paying for a dozen residency positions at Vinik’s sports and entertainment properties in the region, one-third supplementing faculty and staff salaries, and the rest covering student experiences, such as field trips and speaker visits.

It was Vinik who approached the university not long after he bought the Lightning in 2010, curious about ways in which the franchise could build a relationship with the nearby state school. They identified opportunities in sports medicine and sports management, the latter of which grew into a well-funded, first-of-its-kind master’s program that would place second-year students in full-time, paid residencies with sports and entertainment properties, with the Lightning taking on 10 of them a year. The Lightning also would integrate USF sports management professors into their front office as consultants.

To launch and run the program, USF hired Bill Sutton, a well-regarded sports marketing professor who helped launch a program at the University of Central Florida with the financial support of Orlando Magic owner Rich DeVos.

The hook for that program was a connection to the role of sport in society. For this one, it’s the unparalleled experiential opportunities created thanks to such a deep and broad connection to a pro franchise.

“At the press conference when I came here to run the program, I looked [Vinik] square in the eye and said, ‘My goal is that within five years this will be the Vinik program, and we’ll do our best to make it one of the five best programs in the country,’” Sutton said. “This takes what we’ve been able to build pretty quickly and secures it well into the future.”

Vinik’s ties to the school have broadened even further of late. In July, the school’s athletic department announced a 10-year, $29 million marketing rights agreement with Vinik’s recently formed Tampa Bay Entertainment Properties agency. Vinik’s company also took over management of USF’s on-campus arena.