I still can’t bring myself to admire the new sweaters. I just can’t. Not yet anyway. I’ve read many reasons why it’s right or wrong. It’s all been said a hundred times over. I have no desire to rehash any of that. There’s a big reason I don’t like the change, and it’s personal. I’ll get to that in a moment.
First, I’d like to touch on a brilliant marketing plan by the Tampa Bay Lightning management. Something I think has gone overlooked.
The new ownership and management have been highly motivated to rebrand the franchise. Lead it in a new and positive direction. Something they considered necessary. I can’t disagree with that. Who could? Changing the culture of the Lightning, top to bottom was in order. Look at what those changes have done to our beloved Bolts! Leading our division and second in the Eastern Conference, who expected that this year? Thank You Jeff Vinik! Thank You Steve Yzerman!
Changing the uniforms however would be a more daunting venture, and they knew it. Some people just don’t accept change well. Changing the culture of the Lightning was always high on their list. But…..how do you sell a completely new sweater? New colors, new crest, and….well you get the idea. What if fans balk at the changes? What if they don’t buy it? What if they hate it? How do we sell it?
Here’s an idea!
Give all season ticket holders a free one. Who would decline? It’s free! In short time many other fans would want what everyone else has. It’s all over the rink. Their hope is that other fans will eventually follow and, in time, the change is complete. But………. what if the season ticket holders like their old sweaters better? Maybe they wear their old sweaters and keep the new ones in the closet.
Here’s another idea!
Make it worthwhile for them to wear the new logo. Put a chip in it and offer worthwhile discounts (25% off concessions and 35% off merchandise) that would financially encourage the wearing of the new sweaters. Who wouldn’t under those circumstances?
Stroke of genius! My compliments!
Earlier I mentioned that the uniform change was personal to me. It really is. I won’t go into my back-round other than to say I played hockey for several years as a youngster and I grew to love the game. I moved to Florida in 1985 and found myself hockey starved. I couldn’t find a game on my local cable server to save my life. Where was Hockey Night in Canada? Where was UHF channel 50 where I used to watch the Wings? (I just read my last sentence and laughed. I bet many of the people reading this have never heard of UHF and VHF.) Anyway, it was awful.
Ultimately ESPN began showing a few games per year and my cable provider carried them. I was ecstatic. Not long after that, Tampa and Phil Esposito were granted an NHL franchise Needless to say I was "all in" from day one! I embraced this team from its inception.
A lot has happened in this franchise’s history. Most of all, the franchise was slowly but surely establishing it’s own tradition. Over the years I watched this team struggle through troubled times, its first playoff appearance, changes in ownership, and an outstanding run to become Stanley Cup Champions!
This team has come a long way in its 18+ years. Over the years the Lightning had made a mark on the NHL. Players winning Art Ross, Rocket Richard, and Conn Smythe trophies. And of course, the holy grail, The Stanley Cup! With each banner hanging from the rafters, with each player trophy, the Lightning were gaining respect and developing their own tradition, their own "brand."
Lightning pride has grown tremendously over the years. A very big part of that was the crest. Black, white, silver and blue. How beautiful it is! How dare anyone change it! When I first saw the new sweaters I felt like I was slapped in the face.
I understand the new owner and his management team trying to establish a new identity. Jeff Vinik has paid for that right. Likewise, I wish they had understood that this team was here 18 years before they got here. During those years fans have grown to love this team ….. and it’s crest. We saw Dave Andryechuk hoisting the Cup with that beautiful crest upon his sweater. To make such a wholesale change and not take that history into account, is insulting to longtime fans like myself. It pisses me off.
Yes, it's personal!
Maybe I’m one of those that can’t accept change well. Maybe I’m taking it too personally. Some might say I’m being melodramatic. Maybe my line of thinking is wrong. Could be, but I can tell you this. I have spoken to several people who absolutely hate the new uniforms. I ask, why? They can’t quite put their finger on it. Once you begin talking about the history of the team, all of the sudden they understand why they don’t like them. The tradition is what is in our hearts!
Over the years we have become very passionate about our Bolts and everything about them. Including those beautiful sweaters. Removing the black, silver, and changing the color of the blue, removes a good part of Lightning tradition that we have come to know and love. It's about our passion as Lightning fans.
I truly believe that eventually, maybe this summer, Dave Andreychuk will enter the NHL Hall Of Fame. I also believe he will enter as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Will he wear the sweater he hoisted the Cup with or this new……um….thing. I shudder at the thought. When his jersey is retired and hung from the rafters, will it be the one he wore in Cup victory? I can’t imagine, in either case, it would be a sweater he never wore. For some reason that thought disturbs me. I hope that history and tradition wins out.
In closing let me say that Jeff Vinik couldn’t be a better owner. He has coughed up a huge amount of money to buy this team. He wanted to establish a "world class" organization. He is clearly a man of his word. He has opened his pockets in unheralded fashion for the team, the rink, and the City of Tampa. He has proven he, personally, is a "world class" individual. His hires, Steve Yzerman and Tod Leiweke, are indeed "world class." He has hit home run after home run since he bought the team. Like most home run hitters, your going to strike out every now and then.
The new uniforms? A swing……and a miss. Happens to the best of us.
It’s clear these are the new Lightning digs. That is what the boys will be wearing next year. Like it or not, I guess I’ll get used to them. Won’t be next week. Won’t be next month. It will take some time.