At around 2:15 PM this afternoon, the Tampa Bay Lightning will officially mark their return to Orlando, with the unveiling of plans to play an exhibition game against the St. Louis Blues at Amway Center on September 21st.
From the already unveiled preseason schedule, the Bolts were set to play on September 21st... But that game was slated to be in Winnipeg. That got canceled after the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Manitoba. When the schedule was announced, and with the logistics of the series -- the Bolts and the Blues were playing back-to-back, after all -- it wasn't out of the realm of possibility for the Bolts and Blues to hook up in Kansas City to make up for the now open date.
But no, no... It'll be in Orlando, Florida instead. Orlando, which is arguably part fo the Tampa Bay market (being only 90 miles from the St. Pete Times Forum). Orlando, which already boasts a contingent of Lightning fans and plenty of general NHL fans.
Orlando, where the Tampa bay Lightning had not played an exhibition game in 16 years.
I've written in the past about the importance of the Lightning reaching out with their brand to Orlando:
Playing preseason exhibition games in Orlando won't alone sell the Lightning to residents. There has to be a persistent and dedicated outreach to the market, all season long, in order to influence anyone to take interest in the Bolts... Yet, by establishing a preseason presence in Orlando as well as marketing to the town, the Bolts gain in the long-term by exposing their brand to a neighboring market and increasing ties to fans in the market.
One preseason game isn't going to cut it in the end, and with today's announcement, we may not find out more about the Lightning's long-term outreach plans.
It's a start though.