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Lightning look to the past and future with new third jersey

Tampa Bay's new uniform system honors team history while also appealing to a younger demographic of fans

by Bryan Burns /

Tampa Bay Lightning vice president of marketing Eric Blankenship knew he had a hit when he got the CEO's kid to jump in excitement.

Blankenship was showing off a couple prototypes for the Lightning's proposed new third jersey system after a home game to Steve Griggs' teenage son Jack.

Blankenship pulled out a jersey that was one of the three or four finalists but one that ultimately wouldn't be selected.

"That's cool," Jack said, emotionless, showing approval but not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Blankenship then took out another jersey, the one the Lightning unveiled Thursday during warmups prior to their game at AMALIE Arena against the St. Louis Blues in a surprise release.

"He literally jumped in the air and was like, 'That is awesome. You guys have got to do that,'" Blankenship recalled.

A few minutes later, Jack's dad Steve, the Lightning's chief executive officer, walked into the room.

"I'm like, 'Steve, I don't want you to think I'm stacking the deck here, but ask your son which one he likes better,' And he raved. He was like, 'Dad, this is the best jersey ever.' That was the consistent reaction from kids."

Which is exactly what the Lightning were hoping for.

Video: Behind the Design of the Third Jersey

The process for a new third jersey started two years ago when the NHL switched jersey providers from Reebok to adidas. The Lightning opted in to the process of creating a third jersey with adidas and saw the opportunity to connect with a different demographic than their current one, a younger generation of Lightning fans, the next generation of hardcore Lightning fans.

"We wanted to create a third jersey for 13 to 25 year olds," Blankenship said. "We want kids to wear this jersey. We want kids to think this is the coolest jersey. Furthermore, if you're over 25, we're actually okay if you don't like it. Because if you don't like it, we've got a blue and a white one for you."

One of the first things the Lightning did when starting the process of designing the third jersey was seek out input from their fans. They sent out a survey through email, text and on the team website asking questions like "If you could choose a primary color, what would it be?" and "How much do you like BOLTS across the front?" and "Would you rather have a very classic, traditional jersey or would you like something new, something that's never been done before?"

"It was by far the most successful survey in terms of participation that I think this organization has ever had," Blankenship said. "When all else fails, ask the fans. They'll usually tell you want they want."

The overwhelming response? Fans wanted a black jersey. And there wasn't a huge demand for BOLTS across the front, a logo early versions of the jersey had incorporated.

The Lightning also saw the third jersey as an opportunity to be innovative and unique. The Lightning's current home and away jersey are very traditional and simple and clean, even for a non-traditional market with a 26-season history.

"Here's an opportunity for us to do something different, to do something unique," Blankenship said. "And generally speaking, third jerseys give teams that opportunity because no one is hanging their hat on their third jersey forever. Third jerseys are meant to be just that. They're in, they're out, you keep them for one, two, three, four, five years, whatever, you move on and you do other things. That's what third jerseys give teams an opportunity to do. So, being a non-traditional market, the idea was, 'Okay, since we have two sets, why don't we try to do something new and different.'"

That's where the sublimation -- the transition from the midnight black color featured around the chest and shoulders and the majority of the jersey to the storm grey sleeves - was introduced. Inspired by adidas' Primeknit, the jersey's sublimation keeps the number of colors to a minimum while also incorporating a design element never before done on a sports jersey. It also gives the jersey new life depending on the viewer's perspective.

"To me," Lightning chief marketing and revenue officer Jarrod Dillon said, "one of the most unique things about the system is the closer you get to it or the further you get away and your vantage point changes, it almost looks like a different jersey depending on where you are, which we thought was pretty unique and pretty innovative."

The third jersey is innovative without abandoning the history and evolution of the Lightning look. You'll still see the iconic lightning bolt on the pants. Instead of BOLTS across the front of the jersey, it's now on the inside collar. The shoulder patch is the same but blacked out. The primary logo remains on the front of the jersey and on the helmet.

Even the three colors used -- midnight black, flash silver and storm grey -- have meaning. The Lightning famously won the franchise's only Stanley Cup wearing black. Silver used to be one of the team's primary colors. The first two third jerseys in franchise history featured grey.

"We didn't want a jersey that was going to be such an outlier in our current uniform system," Blankenship said. "We wanted it still to live together and be relevant to each other."

The release was trickier. The Lightning wanted the unveiling to be a surprise. A couple months before the scheduled launch, however, a mock-up of the third jersey was released online. In the days leading up to the unveiling, players began wearing the pants and gloves and helmets to break them in before using them in a game. Following the team's morning skate Thursday, the original nameplates in the Lightning locker room were switched out for black and metallic silver ones.

Clearly, something was up.

When the Lightning skated onto the ice for pregame warmups ahead of the St. Louis game, however, the complete third jersey system was revealed for the first time, the surprise kept intact, even with little leaks here and there.

"It feels like we've been talking about it for a million years and trying to keep this secret," Lightning senior vice president of event management Kevin Preast said.

Preast and Dillon sat in the stands when the team first came out to experience the unveiling as a fan. And to get a little crowdsourcing on general reaction. The response was positive.

Video: STL@TBL: Lightning unveil #DisruptTheNight alternate

"Maybe it was the couple sections right around where I was sitting, but people seemed really into it, really engaged, a little bit of awe, which we wanted, that shock and awe, which is also why we didn't tell anybody publicly what we were doing," Dillon said. "We wanted to come out and surprise everybody. I think there's few opportunities in professional sports you actually get to do a surprise moment like that."

While the players were debuting the third jersey on the ice, arena staff were hard at work stocking new merchandise and switching out the masking at the retail store, which closed briefly while the new gear was rolled out. When the store reopened, fans clamored to get their hands on it.

"The response was overwhelming," Preast said. "We had trouble getting one of the doors up because people were trying to push it through as we were trying to open the door because one, people wanted it and two, people wanted to see it up close, which is the exact response we wanted."

Preast said on a good night, the Lightning might sell 80 to 100 jerseys. An average night is somewhere between 60 to 80.

On Thursday, the Lightning sold over 500 of the new third jerseys.

"We actually had people trying on the jersey in the store and standing in line and not taking if off and just holding the tag for it and saying, 'Scan me,'" Preast said.

"I've never seen that before."

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