Throughout the summer, the Lightning have been holding fan focus groups. Each group has centered on one themed topic, from game-night production (scoreboard features and the like) to the Lightning Foundation to season tickets. To this point, the team has hosted 10 or so, with a few more coming before training camp begins next month. I have had the privilege of moderating these groups and it has been an enlightening experience.
Heading into the first session, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had never been a moderator before. Also, even though I am a team employee, I possess only limited knowledge of many of these specific discussion topics – often far less than the fans attending. (For example, while I’m talking on the air, I’m not paying close attention to the features airing on LightningVision). Still, before each session, I receive an outline of talking points from the department head and a general idea of what he or she hopes to learn from the group.
Now, having moderated nearly a dozen of them, I have reached a couple of conclusions. First, the Lightning deserve a lot of credit just for doing these. Even if a department head felt that the vast majority of the feedback wasn’t beneficial (and in speaking afterwards with them, that hasn’t been the case), the team has shown that it is open to listening. This philosophy is consistent with the club’s willingness to hold town hall meetings and have fans ask direct questions of management. I’m sure that other NHL teams have had fan focus groups before, but I’ve not heard of any. Furthermore, in my 18 years of broadcasting pro hockey, I can state unequivocally that no team I’ve worked for has ever done one.
Second, I’ve been so impressed with the fans that have attended. One always hears about the passion of hockey fans – how the love of the sport and a team is in their blood. Hosting the focus groups has reinforced that point – emphatically. In the past, I’ve certainly had many conversations with fans, but never before in a formal setting about such a vast array of items. The people coming to the focus groups often don’t know the subject beforehand. But they’ve all been interested, engaged, spirited and vocal in expressing opinions, regarding both the things they like and the areas where they hope for improvement. Like all fans, I’m sure they’d love to give their two cents on player news, but they’ve been just as invested discussing, for instance, the cordiality of Lightning ticket takers.
In closing, I’d say the benefit from focus groups is two-fold. For the team, they provide a lot of useful suggestions – and, at the very least, they give an idea of the temperature in the pool. For the fans, these sessions let them know that their voices are being heard.
Here’s a question from Tampa’s Bill Hatch.Dave,
What are the odds that Eric Perrin might make another showing in the Lightning colors? He seemed to have his best years playing here with his life-long friend (Marty), and I notice that he is still an unsigned UFA. Not only is he my wife’s favorite player and the main reason she got into hockey, but I think he would be the perfect fit on the second line as a defensive forward. His knack of being in the passing lanes is uncanny, and obviously would create more scoring chances. (even if he’s not the one putting the biscuit in the basket)
Thanks for all your input and keeping us informed during the long offseason.Bill HatchBill:
I can understand why your wife appreciates Eric’s play. He’s a pleasure to watch. He and Marty do have a special rapport, both on the ice and off. Personally, I enjoyed getting to know him when he first joined the Lightning during the 2004 Cup run.
For many UFAs like Eric Perrin, it’s been a waiting game this summer. I think that other players like Alex Tanguay and Petr Sykora (either of whom could still end up with the Bolts) first need to sign with clubs. For example, if a team feels that it is in the running for a Tanguay, it likely won’t commit dollars to other forwards. Once those guys are off the free agent board, then teams will set their sights on some of the other UFAs. I don’t know the odds of Perrin landing with the Lightning, but I do believe he will find another NHL home before the season starts.
Thanks as always for submitting your questions. You can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org