The month of March, 2011 marks the one-year anniversary of Jeff Vinik’s purchase of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now, reflecting back on a year which was intended to be a rebuilding phase on the ice, it is easy to see that the organization has quickly pushed itself forward on the ice and off of it.
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Needless to say, the substantial changes that have taken place are being noticed by Lightning fans. Nearly seven years after winning the Stanley Cup (June 7, 2004), the organization is generating a high level of excitement and enthusiasm for Lightning hockey in the Bay Area, and, suddenly tickets to the team’s games are a hot-commodity.
Proof of the change can be found in the more than 900 new full season ticket holders that have gone “All In” with the Lightning for the 2011-12 regular season in the past six weeks. For the franchise, this is tremendous news. The strong new numbers mark the first step towards re-attaining a season ticket base which numbered more than 14,000 for the 2005-06 season, a year in which the team set attendance records at the St. Pete Times Forum.
For current season ticket holders that still have not cashed in on the renewal opportunities that come with reinvesting with the Lightning, the window of opportunity to lock in prices and seats for next season and prospective 2011 playoff games is dwindling.
It is not too late though as this Friday, March 25th, officially marks the last day that current Lightning partial and full season ticket holders can renew their season tickets for the 2011-12 NHL season, freezing their current pricing and safeguarding their seat locations. Additionally, the 25th also marks the final day that fans can lock in their current pricing for any potential Stanley Cup Playoff games to be played in 2011. This would include purchases for all potential rounds of the playoffs.
There are no gimmicks. The only thing full, half and 10-game package holders would have to do to remain eligible for the price freeze for the 2011-12 season and the 2011 playoffs is to make a 20 percent deposit before March 25. In addition to the price freeze, these account holders would also have the option to “Cheer Now and Pay Later” for the playoffs, meaning they can pay for their playoff tickets following the end of each round.
The unprecedented move of freezing prices actually marks the first time in Lightning history that there has not been an increase in playoff pricing for season ticket holders.
“This is a major advantage for our fans,” executive vice president of sales and marketing, Brad Lott said. “I don’t know if any other team has said to its fans, ‘pay for next year’s season tickets and keep your same prices all the way through the playoffs.’”
The pricing initiative is one of many that the organization is taking, indicative of the fan-first mentality driving its short and long-term decisions.
Additionally, fans that renew their tickets will receive personalized, micro-chipped, home jersey for each seat in their respective account (up to six per account). The microchip with enable fans to receive savings of 25 percent on all food and beverage purchases as well as 35 percent on all merchandise purchases made at Lightning home games.
Fans are already blessed with an incentive-laden season ticket program that includes guaranteed game-night giveaways (this season the giveaways included replica jerseys, bobble heads and other creative Bolts knick-knacks), free tickets to a season-opening concert and “All In” Access for concert ticket-ordering priority.
Bolts executives certainly realize that the season ticket proposal is a tremendous offer for fans and that is not by mistake. “We are offering one of the best value propositions in the area, if not all of sports,” said Lott.
Added CEO Tod Leiweke, “Organizations all over the world want to replicate our season ticket program.”
Leiweke understands the importance of a large and raucous season ticket base. “Season ticket holders are everything to our organization,” explained Leiweke. “They are our lifeblood.”
Lott offered even more insight, “We want to give season ticket holders every possible reason to come back, no matter what their personal situations may be. “We don’t want to leave any stone unturned. We want to have this building full of Lightning fans night-in, night-out.”
Not only have the on and off ice products been vastly improved, in large part to the methodical direction that the new management has adopted, but the St. Pete Times Forum, as a part of Vinik’s focus on investing in long term goals, is also set to undergo a $35 million transformation this summer. The face-lift focuses on making the St. Pete Times Forum into a world-class arena and also at improving the overall fan experience.
Those renovations, coupled with the Vinik family’s pledge to donate $10 million over the next five years through the Lightning Foundation to a number of community heroes and non-profits, should help fans feel confident that the organization is concerned with more than just the bottom line; with focuses on community activation and fan engagement.
“We are trying to create something that has unparallel value here,” said Leiweke. “This is a really good organization that we are committed to making even better over time. We are creating every tool for this team to be successful both on and off the ice.”
In only one short year under Vinik’s vision for the organization, things have already drastically changed. Considering that everything has been aimed at building a tremendous relationship with fans, it’s hard not to take notice. That is why existing Lightning fans are now no longer the only ones who recognize the organization’s commitment to fans and the subsequent long-term viability that the franchise should enjoy because of it.
Now, more than ever, with a burgeoning fan base set to fill the Times Forum and take advantage of all the season ticket holder benefits, it is crucial to lock in seats. Fortunately, for existing season ticket holders who hold priority rights, their seats are held until Friday, March 25th.
With such a positive future on the horizon for Tampa Bay, fans that do not seize this opportunity may miss everything that is in store for this organization.
“Fans can trust that their emotional investment will be well placed with us,” said Leiweke. “This Lightning team is going to be a long term winner.”