It's official. The Tampa Bay Lightning now have a new CEO - and part co-owner. Don't let that last part upset you, however. Tod Leiweke is an established hockey guy, despite coming to the Lightning by way of Seattle/Portland (Ore.). And remember, he was hired by the same guy who hired Steve Yzerman - or, perhaps more importantly, the guy that Yzerman said yes to - so that has to say something about Vinik as well.
The announcement included a statement from [Seahawks owner Paul Allen], who called Leiweke a leader and for understanding the priority placed upon the fans.
"I'm sorry to see him go, but I know hockey is his first love," Allen said.
-Tod Leiweke leaving Seahawks, Blazers to return to the NHL, Seattle Times
Another thing that tells you volumes about Leiweke's character is that he's staying on with Vulcan Sports and Entertainment until a replacement for him can be found. He's not just bailing ship for the first good deal to come his way. He's responsibly sticking around to help fill the spot he's vacating and not leaving his former employer in a lurch.
Leiweke plans to stay with Vulcan until his replacement is found, then take over running the day-to-day operations of the NHL franchise recently purchased by Jeff Vinik.
-Seahawks CEO bolts for Tampa, Vancouver Sun
There's a very specific reason why Jeff Vinik waited Leiweke out - and likely resorted to offering an ownership stake in order to get him to come on board, too. That reason is the Seattle Sounders FC. If you're not sure what the Seattle Sounders FC are - and you should care since it will only benefit the Lightning - then I suggest that you visit Sounder at Heart here on SB Nation.
I'm originally from the Seattle area, so let me give you the Seattle perspective on Leiweke. While he also oversaw the Portland Trail Blazers, his most notable successes were in Seattle. And though it starts with the Seahawks, it really ends with the Sounders.
That's why I like Leiweke. He's an understated, unpretentious, unwavering leader. The Seahawks, Sounders FC and Portland Trail Blazers will miss him. The past eight months for the Vulcan Sports franchises, particularly the Seahawks and Blazers, have been a whirlwind of tumult. Change has been rampant: firings, resignations, high-profile hires, infighting, restructuring, calamities, retirements and, sadly, Allen's battle with cancer.
-Paul Allen will find it difficult to replace Tod Leiweke, Seattle Times
The Seattle Sounders FC were an expansion Major League Soccer (MLS) team last season. But it went beyond that. The Sounders within one season became the premier North American soccer team. Seattle went from being a new soccer market to THE soccer market. At this point, you'd be hard pressed to find a bigger team in Seattle than the Sounders. All in one season.
And most of it came from creating fan traditions, such as songs/chants and scarves, that create a feeling of community. What other MLS team regularly sells out their games? Not to mention that the Sounders now have such a following that bars and pubs were packed with people wanting to watch World Cup soccer games - at 7:30 am local time. Pretty impressive if you ask me.
Technically, Leiweke wasn't in charge of that. He was not officially listed as the CEO of the Sounders on their website. But, he was listed as the President and CEO of the ownership group that owns the Sounders. So he did have some say in how things were run.
"He is somebody who has been tremendous for our organization, especially the way he has treated the Sounders and the whole Seahawks and Sounders organization," [Sounders coach Sigi Schmid] told reporters Monday. "The respect that was given to the Sounders right from the beginning, that comes from the top.
"I think for sure we are going to miss Tod because he is a great person, a great individual and a tremendous leader. We wish him well with his opportunity. I know he wouldn't have left unless it was something that was a great opportunity for him."
-Sigi says Leiweke's departure a loss for Sounders, Seattle Post Intelligencer
The Seattle Seahawks are another story - another good story, that is. Leiweke was the CEO of the Seahawks directly. He was in charge when the Seahawks made it to Superbowl XL, which they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers through some highly questionable officiating. (Yes, I'm biased - I did grow up in the Seattle area, after all.) He also hired Pete Carroll, most recently formerly of USC, as head coach. And Qwest field has had 60 sellouts in a row for football.
But, perhaps most importantly to Seattle sports fans, he helped revive the tradition of the 12th Man.
The 12th Man is the crowd - the unseen 12th man on the football field. The Seattle Seahawks have long been accused of piping in crowd noise; first in the Kingdome and also into Qwest Field. Even the University of Washington Huskies have been accused of that at college football games. But they don't - Seattle fans are just that loud. So loud, in fact, that back in the Kingdome days, the NFL had to make a rule in the 1980s for them because of the crowd noise. To this day, if you look up the game-by-game team stats, almost every NFL team that plays in Seattle has the most false starts when they play in Seattle - because teams on the field just can't hear the audibles being called. I believe that's also the same for any college football team that plays in Husky Stadium.
Despite what Texas A&M has to say about it - and they have had a lot to say about it - the Seahawks, almost from their beginnings in the late 1970s have had a tradition of honoring the 12th Man. It was Leiweke who formalized that, however. Before every game now, a 12th Man flag is raised before kickoff to honor the fans. It's a new tradition that many people love.
To borrow a quote from SB Nation Seattle:
When Leiweke came aboard, everything changed. I remember seeing him coming up the aisle of our section early with a crew with sound detectors. Next game, the sound was down and we could actually hear ourselves cheer. The 12th Man flag went up and I got to shake hands with Chuck Knox and Steve Largent when they raised the flag. It was an entirely different stadium experience, night and day.
His effect on the fans cannot be overstated.
So what does this mean for Lightning fans? It means that Leiweke has a history of making the game experience fan friendly. Not only fan friendly, but including the fans in the game - as being a part of the team and a part of the game experience. They're not just passive observers who supply money, but active participants in the event.
And that's why you should care about who is CEO of the Lightning. That's why hiring Tod Leiweke matters. It will directly impact the fans, and in a good way. Today, the Seattle news media are lamenting the loss of Leiweke. Today, perhaps Lightning fans ought to be rejoicing in his joining the team. Because he will help make the team "world class" - literally. He helped do that with both the Seahawks and the Sounders.
And he will do that with the Tampa Bay Lightning as well - with the fans there to help him.