By Josh Bomstein
Those folks, like me, who grew up a fan of the Bucs, Rays, Rowdies, Lightning, and Bandits (now defunct) know that being a Tampa Bay sports fan takes grit and perseverance. Our teams raise us up with their successes and frustrate us with their losses. But most importantly, we love them! There is no denying that Tampa Bay is a region imbued with affection for sports, and they play (no pun intended) a significant role in our business community and culture at-large.
Donned in fan gear from our favorite Tampa Bay teams, LT ’17 (GOAT) was pumped up for sports day (sponsored by Troy Atlas of Raymond James and chaired by Scott Garlick of Cushman Wakefield (LT ’10)). The first stop was the Amelie Arena, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
We toured the 20 year old arena and learned some interesting facts about it and the franchise:
- The Lighnting have invested more than $60M in improvements to the arena since 2011.
- The Lightning (as of that day) had sold out 94 consecutive home games.
- They have the largest pipe organ in sports and the second largest tesla coil in the world.
- Franchise financial performance goal is to break-even in regular season; 2016 the franchise broke-even in the first round of the playoffs.
- Vinik (principal owner) is intensely focused on good service, fan experience, and always opts for the “best” in decision-making even personally sitting in every new seat option evaluated prior to replacing all seats in the arena.
We heard from Jared Dillon (EVP of the Lightning, Storm, and Amelie Arena); highlights of his talk include:
- The lightning are relentlessly focused on their fans and treating them to a great experience.
- With only 1/3 of the fan base from Florida, a challenge is breaking residents of their non-Tampa team allegiances; hence a strong focus on making the youth of Tampa bay lifelong fans of the Lightning.
- Jared is a fan of Dale Carnegie and Simon Sinek’s theories on effective leadership. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE
- He practices the “golden rule” and focuses on leading with empathy, genuine care and concern for people utilizing eye contact and human contact.
- An unofficial mantra of the staff of the Lightning is “What Would Jeff Vinik do?” Clearly Mr. Vinik is the heart of the organization and his pursuit of excellence has created a culture focused on victories on and off the ice.
- The Lightning have an “employee innovation lab” where employees can share their great ideas many of which have been used by the team.
Next we heard from Rob Higgins, Executive Director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Highlights of his dynamic presentation include:
- The commission targets the “right” events that will have the best impact for the community.
- They donated $1M to Pinellas, Pasco, and Hillsborough Schools via their “Extra Yard for Teachers” campaign which ran in conjunction with the NCAA Football National Championship game in January.
- Though the exact economic impact is still being tallied, the National Championship game was a massive success with major increases in hotel rooms stays and rates and an increase in flights into and out of TIA.
- The Commission is constantly focused on “raising the bar” and the National Championship game was the penultimate success showcasing Tampa Bay in a great light. Key elements of the fan experience and subsequent media coverage was the Riverwalk, the “Yacht Village”, and the beaches.
- The Commission hopes for Tampa to be the first city to host the game twice.
- A big push for the commission is hosting youth sports events which have a large economic impact (i.e. recently the youth volleyball tournament was hosted here with 390 teams!)
Next stop was Al Lang Field in downtown St. Petersburg, home to the Rowdies.
We were led on a tour/discussion by Lee Cohen, Chief Operating Officer of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Highlights of the visit include:
- The Rowdies have a long history in Tampa Bay preceding the current team. The Rowdies originally played at old Tampa Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s.
- The Rowdies play in the United States Soccer League, a minor league to Major League Soccer.
- Rowdies are competing for one of four new Major League Soccer franchises to be awarded over the next 18 months.
- They are highly focused on using technology to maximize results and utilize extensive data analytics to track performance.
- Minimum salary is $65,000 in the MLS and the average USL player earns $5000/month.
- The team is made up of players from many countries, and their “designated” player is Joe Cole.
- Al Lang Stadium currently holds 7000 (average game attendance is 5800); the proposed renovation to the stadium to host MLS team (if awarded one) will add an additional 11,000 seats.
From there we headed to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.
After pictures with Raymond, Josh Bullock (Vice President Corporate Partnerships) led us to the field. Highlights included:
- An amazing live rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” led by the talented soprano voice of Josh Bullock followed by a tour of the locker room. https://www.facebook.com/kristy.tozer/videos/10209763449415637/
- Delicious lunch of various Cuban sandwiches and other tasty treats and coffee, finally coffee. Thanks Rays!
- Josh spoke briefly regarding the organization’s efforts to put employees first creating a strong culture of community involvement.
- He also addressed the ever-present question regarding a new stadium by simply stating that the team has narrowed their potential sites to two in Pinellas and two in Hillsborough.
- Josh kindly presented an award to this author for the “Best Rays gear” worn that day, an obvious choice.
Jeff Cogen, Chief Business Officer for the Rays, spoke. Highlights of his discussion included:
- Many innovative new programs to “thank” season ticket holders including a rewards points program similar to those used by credit card companies.
- Many new options being offered for fans to purchase tickets in addition to new incentive programs to help attract more fans to the games.
- The goal is to build a season ticket holder base that is sustainable.
Eric Wesiberg, Senior Director of Marketing, also spoke. Key points he addressed include:
- New video marketing which is being completed in-house. They provide a more “homegrown” and relatable feel than previous campaigns.
- They are focused on their gameday giveaways and research shows that fans want “wearable” items so mark your calendars for July 22 – DJ Kitty adult onesie giveaway night!
Stephen Thomas. Director of Community Engagement spoke last regarding Rays community involvement and the motto of “making dreams come true.” He discussed some programs including “Reading with the Rays” of which 20,000 kids have participated and the yearly work done with local Little League teams including free jerseys for the youth. Many Rays players are enthusiastic about giving back to the community notably Chris Archer and Evan Longoria.
From the Trop we headed back across the bridge to One Buc Place, the training facility for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. There, we received a tour of their impressive facility which has state-of-the-art fitness, health, wellness and administrative components. Brian Ford, Chief Operating Officer for the Bucs, started his discussion with the statement:
“We are a sports town. No doubt about it.”
His in-depth look at the Buccaneers on and off the field included the following highlights:
- Jameis Winston has exceeded expectation on and off the field.
- He is the first QB with 4000+ yards in each of his first two seasons!
- With no more long term season ticket contracts, they are focused on exceeding expectations each season.
- Raymond James is the second longest naming rights of any venue in all of major league sports.
- The business side of the NFL is extremely organized.
- There is great sharing of information on business operations across teams.
- All improvements to Raymond James Stadium are to enhance the fan experience, and they have been ranked #1 for gameday fan experience.
- He stressed that they are in the “entertainment” business.
- The Glazers are “fans first.”
- The Bucs are highly focused on community giving through their “Bucs for a Better Bay” initiative. They encourage players to give back and have strong connections with both military and local schools.
- He expressed great gratitude that he gets to do what he does every day, and noted that Tampa Bay is not a big city but is a true “community.” Words get around quickly, hence the relentless emphasis on good behavior and giving back.
Brian’s discussion was followed by a panel discussion around ticketing/marketing led by Ben Milsom, Chief Ticketing Officer. The Bucs then graciously hosted us for de-brief, snacks, and beverages in the impressive lobby of One Buc Place.
It was day filled with fun and a lot was learned about the role each team plays in the City of Tampa and larger Tampa Bay region. Our teams emotionally connect the region like no other asset we have. Go Bolts! Go Rowdies! Go Rays! Go Bucs!