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Changes in Lightning logo, jerseys reflect evolution of franchise during 20-year history

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Few would argue with the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention.

Not even the outspoken Phil Esposito, who aside from his hockey-playing abilities, carries a reputation for remaining steadfast in his beliefs.

Perhaps that’s because Esposito himself knows the familiar phrase all too well.

The year was 1990, and not long after Esposito declared that the first professional hockey franchise in Tampa Bay, if awarded, would be called the Lightning, he realized that it was just as important for the would-be franchise to have a logo that fans throughout the Bay Area could identify with.

But much in the same way that he received assistance from a local attorney’s mother in naming the team, this project in particular was also to be borne from a collaborative effort.

After all, hockey is a team sport, right?

Together with colleagues Mel Lowell and Henry Paul, Esposito began sketching out designs for what would eventually become the Tampa Bay Lightning logo.

“I literally would go home at night, and sit in my office and draw pictures of lightning bolts on notebook paper,” Esposito said. “And remember, I am no artist. But all of us would come in the next day and sit down with each other to compare what we had come up with. And let me tell you, between the three of us, there was a lot to look at.”

It was almost a given that a team called the Lightning would so much as incorporate an actual lightning bolt into the design, so at least Esposito and his business partners had that going for them. Even though each individual seemed to be on the same page with one another, at least conceptually, there were still others who Esposito is now quick to credit for making the Lightning crest what it is today.

Initially, Esposito had just settled on a silver lightning bolt with the word “Tampa” across the top. Lowell and Paul then altered it slightly to include the circular backdrop on which it is emblazoned, which still is incorporated in today’s logo, unveiled in the spring of 2011.

Changes in Tampa Bay Lightning logo reflect evolution of franchise during 20-year history

Perhaps the most key contribution, however, came from long-time Tampa sports journalist and pioneer Tom McEwen, who advised Esposito to include the word “Bay” as well, signifying a union between Tampa and its neighboring communities.

“Tom told me it had to say “Tampa Bay” no matter what, and that, honestly, was the best decision I could have made at the time,” Esposito said. “There was such a great divide between Tampa, Clearwater, and St. Petersburg that I could not believe. So I thought, yes, in order to be successful, we have to unite.”

The word “Lightning” would also be added towards the bottom of the crest, completing the initial design.

By the time the puck dropped on the inaugural game in franchise history on October 7, 1992, the original Lightning jerseys featured simple stripes on the sleeves and waist, and contrasting shoulders—black shoulders over a white jersey, and white shoulders over the black—with the alternate logo, which depicted a lightning bolt over the outline of the state of Florida.

Esposito also added his own little aesthetic tough, lining the underarm gussets with “victory stripes,” group of thin lines, alternating in the team's colors of black, blue and silver. The letters, meanwhile, were stylized in block font for player names, with gaps in the upper loops of specific characters. The numbers, on the other hand, were standard block numbers with incorporated drop shadows.

The fonts appeared vertical for the inaugural 1992-93 season, and then became italicized beginning in 1993-94. The following season, the font changed back to a block font, vertically arched, while the number font changed to a painted style resembling “Tampa Bay” in the crest. This style was also used on the team’s first-ever lot of alternate third jerseys, first displayed in 1998-99, replacing an “electrified” number font that was in place from 1996-98. Prior to the start of the 2000-01 season, however, the old fonts were restored with traditional block letters and numbers, which have been used ever since.

“Certainly there were a lot of changes and things to experiment with during those first couple of years,” Esposito said. “But this was my kid and my baby. I was responsible, and I was going to do whatever it took to make it successful.”

The only trouble was, so were the team’s numerous other ownership groups that came along after Esposito had moved on from his post as executive.

As with all NHL teams for the 2007–08 season, the Lightning debuted the new Reebok “Rbk Edge” jerseys, which at least where the Lightning were concerned, also came accompanied with yet another revision to the team’s logo.

On August 25, 2007, the team unveiled a modernized version of the original logo, which featured sharper contours and a bolder look. The new logo also kept the same theme as the previous one, but with the words “Tampa Bay” across the top now appearing with tall capital letters, and the word “Lightning” no longer appearing on the bottom.

Similarly, around the same time, then-team president Ron Campbell announced the plans for a new third alternate jersey, which the team still proudly wears today for select home games. Along with many other teams sporting a third jersey, the Lightning debuted the new threads during the 2008-09 season. Unlike its previous black home and white road kits, the third alternates feature an “electric blue” sweater with black and silver accents. The traditional Lightning crest was moved to the shoulder and replaced by the word “BOLTS” in all capital letters descending diagonally to the lower left of the jersey. The numbers are featured on the back and sleeves only, using white lettering.

In addition, there are the current jersey systems, which were unveiled in the spring of 2011.

On February 4, 2011, the current uniforms were unveiled at a press conference at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Aiming for a more traditional and classic look, the home jerseys are blue with an updated version of the iconic Lightning logo in white, which for the first time in franchise history, features no surrounding words to accompany the crest on the front of the sweater.

In contrast, the colors of both the sweater and the crest are inverted for the road kits, with the only other distinguishing mark being the words “Tampa Bay” emblazoned across the top of the logo. A new sleeve patch was also added to both the home and away jerseys of the new system, as well as drawstrings towards the front of the collar.

“When a player pulls on the Lightning sweater, we want him to know exactly who he represents and what the mark he is wearing stands for,” general manager Steve Yzerman said at the time of the unveiling. “The long-term goal is for the Lightning to be an iconic franchise, rich in tradition with championship values and a strong legacy.”

Initially, the colors to be used simply were blue and white, but by popular demand, black was later added as a trim color on the numbers, as well as to the pants. The “victory stripes” were also eliminated.

The Lightning began to integrate the new logo onto center ice, and even distributed free t-shirts with the new, iconic logo, but continued to use the previous uniforms and logo for the remainder of the 2010-11 season, including throughout its lengthy run all the way to Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final.

That seems but a distant memory nearly two years in age, but as the organization celebrates 20 years of hockey, the evolution of the Lightning logo from humble beginnings into a world-class brand nonetheless remains indicative of how much the franchise has grown both on and off the ice in the past two decades.

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