When Jeff Vinik bought the Tampa Bay Lightning all the way back in 2010, he wanted to turn the franchise around for the fans. Since he made his name and fortune as a very successful businessman and investment guru, it shouldn't stretch anyone's imagination to see Vinik wanted simultaneously to make the team profitable as soon as he could.
While his hiring of the hockey operations staff certainly has made the most headlines (it is a professional hockey team, after all), it is his business personnel hirings that have, and will continue to be, the most help improving the fiscal bottom line for this team's business.
Coupled with hockey's national resurgence (lucrative contracts with companies from
Versus NBC Sports Network to Tim Horton's coffee and beyond), the pleasant surprise of the Lightning's deep playoff run last year and the fan base resurgence that comes with it has certainly helped the Lightning's business model look prettier now than a couple of years ago.
First, bringing in CEO Tod Leiweke, he formerly of Vulcan Sports and Entertainment (owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and the organization by which Allen owns and operates the Seattle Seahawks, Seattle Sounders FC, and the Portland Trailblazers), was the most noticable of the business-side hires, but the hiring moves of the Chief Operations Officer, Steve Griggs, and the Chief Financial Officer, Martha Fuller were no less important. Both these people had great success in their previous positions (Griggs, from the Orlando Magic and Fuller, from the aforementioned Vulcan, Inc.). It is not the first time in the hockey business for either Griggs or Fuller--both were in the front office of the Minnesota Wild with Leiweke.
So what does that all mean to the Lightning
team business and its bottom line?
Recently, Forbes magazine completed a valuation of all 30 teams in the NHL, analyzing the market in which the teams reside, the payroll of the players, purchase price of the team by its current owner, debt of the team, and so on. Of the 30 teams in the league, the 1-year value change of the Lightning is second only to the Winnipeg
Thrashers Jets, increasing 20% over the past year according to Forbes' estimates. Additionally, the team is already in the top third of the league in Debt/Value ratio (26%, only 1% higher than the most valuable team in the league, the Toronto Maple Leafs).
So it's all good, right? Not necessarily; there's still a lot of work to be done on the business side of the house. The Lightning, as a business, rank in the bottom third (20th) of the league in revenue ($87 million--nearly $100 million per year less than the Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers). While no publicly held data is to be found, it's not difficult to imagine much of the team's debt exists because of the many lean business years in the Lightning's past.
Jeff Vinik and his Lightning business operations team (Leiweke, Griggs, and Fuller and their respective staffs) will continue to re-energize and establish more deeply the Lightning as a highly-recognizable brand in the Tampa Bay area. With those sorts of smarts running the show, it will not be long before the financial results of the team match--or, dare I say even surpass--the results of the team on the ice.
Go here for more on Forbes magazine's Business of Hockey column.