The Tampa Bay Lightning have been named the No. 7 franchise in sports according to ESPN The Magazine’s 10th Annual “Ultimate Standings” in this week’s issue. It is the second consecutive year the Lightning maintained their place in the Top 10 after being named No. 2 in 2011. For the second consecutive year, the Lightning are the highest-rated franchise in the Tampa Bay market. They are also the second-highest in the National Hockey League.
“We are extremely proud of being named in the Top 10 in ESPN’s Ultimate Standings for the second consecutive year,” Lightning Chief Operating Officer Steve Griggs said. “Now with consecutive Top 10 finishes, we are honored and humbled that our fans appreciate the work we do for them, especially in the fan relations and stadium experience categories, in which we made great strides. The Lightning look forward to continuing to serve our fans and partners in a world class manner and reach the top of the standings next summer.”
The Lightning saw increases this year in fan relations, stadium experience and coaching. The Bolts improved from eighth to fourth in the fan relations category, which considers openness and consideration toward fans by players, coaches and management. The biggest strides the Lightning made were in the stadium experience field, spurred by a $42 million renovation project during the summer of 2011 and the addition of a $5 million center-hung scoreboard this summer, in which Tampa Bay went from 27th in 2011 to ninth in 2012. Head coach Guy Boucher also received high marks as the Bolts improved from 21st to 18th in the coaching category, which measures the strength of on-field/ice leadership.
The transformation of the Lightning began in earnest after the team’s purchase by Jeff Vinik on March 3, 2010 as he quickly pledged to turn the team in to a “world-class organization”. Vinik first solidified the hockey operations department when he hired Hockey Hall-of-Famer and four-time Stanley Cup Champion Steve Yzerman as vice president and general manager. Vinik then turned his focus to the business side of the team, hiring lauded sports business executive Tod Leiweke to serve as chief executive officer.
Vinik’s work appears to be paying off, as Tampa Bay has seen a significant increase in their overall ranking, coming up from 70th in 2010 when he purchased the team. Upon his acquisition of the team, Vinik detailed a vision that included a team inspired by championship values; an organization committed to Tampa Bay, giving back through leadership, mentoring and charitable contributions; and a state-of-the-art venue. Those commitments included a new logo and jersey system, $10 million in community donations, 4,000 hours of community service each season as well as more than $47 million in combined building upgrades.
Tampa Bay sports fans have immediately embraced Vinik’s vision as indicated by the team’s attendance in each of the past three seasons. The Lightning averaged 15,497 fans per game during the 2009-10 season, during which Vinik purchased the franchise, and have now seen steep increases to 17,269 in 2010-11 and 18,468 last season, which also included 20 sellouts.
The feature is part of ESPN The Magazine’s Ultimate Standings methodology study, which determines an overall ranking for pro sports franchises according to how much they give back to fans for the time, money and emotion they invest in them.
The rankings are determined by a multi-tiered analysis that examines a team’s efficiency in spending fan money as compared to its on-field performance. It also factors in feedback in 25 categories from more than 70,000 fans nationwide, both online at ESPN.com and in polling conducted by both independent third parties.
In all, 122 teams from the NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball were ranked in order, based on a weighted average of scores in eight different categories ranging from the quantitative to the emotionally subjective: “bang for the buck” (24.3%), players (16.6%), fan relations (16.5%), affordability (14.1%), stadium experience (9.1%), ownership (9.0%), title track (6.7%) and coaching (3.9%).