Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said he's been badgering National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman about hosting one of the league's major events since taking over the franchise a little more than seven years ago.
On Thursday, Vinik officially got his major event.
It just so happens to coincide with another big-time Tampa party.
Flanked by Vinik, Lightning Chief Executive Officer Steve Griggs, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan and Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins, Bettman formally announced the Lightning will host the 2018 NHL All-Star Weekend on January 27-28 at AMALIE Arena, starting with the All-Star Skills Competition on Saturday and concluding with the All-Star Game on Sunday.
All-Star Weekend will coincide with Tampa's Gasparilla festival, which will also take place Saturday, January 27, making for what could be an epic couple of days in Tampa Bay.
"One plus one equals three," Vinik said. "We take the great, historic 100-year-old Gasparilla parade and marry that with the great, historic, probably 100-year-old All-Star Game. You put them together, and we're going to have one of the best weekends…that has happened in a long time in sports."
Video: Jeff Vinik on 2018 NHL All-Star Game
The Lightning will host the NHL All-Star Game for the second time in franchise history and the first time since 1999.
"When you combine the fact that Jeff has done so much, given so much of himself to this team, to this building and this community and the fans have been so spectacular in support of his efforts and this team, it really is fun for us to announce that we're going to come here with a major event," Bettman said. "Tampa's a great city for hosting major events, and for us to be able to be a part of that, particularly on Gasparilla weekend, is just going to be a lot of fun."
So how will the two events co-exist? Sure traffic and parking, which has always been an issue with the Gasparilla festivities, will be even more of a challenge. And hotel rooms in could be at a premium with two major events coming to Tampa on the same weekend.
Buckhorn, however, re-iterated the community's experience and expertise hosting world-class events, pointing to the College Football Playoff National Championship played at Raymond James Stadium in January in addition to Super Bowls past and future.
"This is going to be an opportunity for the world to see a city that has transformed itself," Buckhorn said. "…This is a city that does these big events as well as anybody in the country. We've proven it over and over and over again."
Tampa and NHL leaders don't see the convergence of the two happenings as an obstacle but rather an opportunity to showcase both events to new viewers. Hockey enthusiasts outside of the Tampa Bay region have likely never heard of Gasparilla. And Gasparilla-goers might never have been to a hockey game.
Now, there's a chance for both groups to take a peek into the other's world.
Video: Commissioner Gary Bettman on 2018 All-Star Game
"Our interest, my interest and the league's interest is to bring a whole set of new fans as well to the game," NHL Chief Content Officer and Executive Vice President Steve Mayer said. "We have our hard-core hockey fans who will watch a game if it's 3 in the morning, 3 in the afternoon, it doesn't matter. But there are a lot of fans out there, and we're seeing it during these particular playoffs, that get a chance to watch a game for the first time and they fall in love. We also think that this is a great opportunity for some of those fans who now will engage on All-Star Weekend a hockey game because they are fans of Gasparilla and now see these hockey players and wonder, 'Hmm, I wonder what they do or let me watch a game.' And that's what I think will connect a whole new set of fans out there to our game, that's pretty cool.
Mayer is in charge of planning and executing all the events surrounding All-Star Weekend. He said the opportunities to co-mingle the All-Star Game with Gasparilla are endless, and he is excited about what his team can come up with creatively.
"How about an eye patch with an NHL shield," Mayer said when prodded for a teaser of some of his ideas to combine the events.
"The parade is real exciting to me. We always do a red carpet, but our red carpet could be something to do with the parade. Or the invasion. Why not have our players come on a boat? There's so many different things we could start to think about. And listen, I think wherever we go, and it was Los Angeles last year and Hollywood or the year before that in Nashville with country music, we always look to take advantage of the environment we're in. And so there would be no question whether Gasparilla was happening that weekend or not, we would take advantage of Tampa and all it has to offer. But adding this piece just gives us creatively a whole different way to go, and that makes this really interesting and we think will make for a great weekend of event after event after event that makes it unique as well and things that we've never done as well."
One thing is certain: Gasparilla will have at least one first-time festival-goer this year. Bettman said he's never been to the event but has seen pictures and videos and wants to be part of the fun.
"It looks like a gas," he said. "…It should be a wonderful weekend for everybody who's in Tampa."