TAMPA, FL - The next time you see the inside of the St. Pete Times Forum, it's going to look very different. What changes would you make? (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
With the $35 million renovation project currently taking place at the St. Pete Times Forum, we thought now would be a good time for some wishmaking. We know the seats are being replaced, party decks are being built and a massive entertainment stage with a pipe organ will be installed. But what else would we like to see?
If I let my imagination run wild, I can't think of anything more awesome than the Forum transforming into a robot that could patrol Tampa Bay (it would have multi-jurisdiction authority, of course), fighting crime on non-event nights.
On the more realistic end of the spectrum, I'll be happy if they just make the Terrace level look more comfortable and inviting. While fans in the lower levels have been welcomed to their seats with pictures of Tom Petty and Janet Jackson, fans sitting upstairs found their sections by looking for stenciled numbers spray-painted on wooden boards. That, plus the institutional teal and beige color scheme and the absolutely-no-frills concession stands, made it look like something left over from the '70s-era Soviet bloc. All that was missing was people in tattered gray overcoats huddling over trash can fires or waiting in line for shoes.
I'm pretty sure that I'll get my wish and that all will be addressed. But what about you? This week's question is a fantasy scenario: Pretend that you have direct access to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and he is granting you one wish in regard to improvements to the St. Pete Times Forum. Money is no object but it has to be for the building, no player or personnel transactions. Otherwise, anything goes. What do you tell him you want?
What I'd like to see with the Forum doesn't touch on the fan experience as-so-much the franchise setting an example and being responsible. I'd love to hear about the club installing solar cells on the roof of the building and harnessing the power of the sun for day-to-day electric use in the building like they do with Staples Center in Los Angeles. Also, with the position of the building, right on the waterfront (where winds can get dicey), having a wind turbine specifically for the building would also work in a power-generating capacity. Not all wind turbines are huge hulking windmills, Helix Wind is an example of something more subtle, as well as Diamond Wind Solutions. It's a thought. Renewable energy would never be enough power for the Forum's events, but it doesn't mean they can't contribute.
WB "Bill" Philp
Building enhancements, special discounts for season ticket holders and even a great hockey team are all necessary in creating a "World Class" organization. But, there is only one thing that will grow your business and bring people back, no matter what the Lightning's record is. That Mr. Vinik is a smiling, helpful and empowered, front line staff. From vendors to bathroom attendants, these people are your business cards and must make a good first impression and continue to cultivate your fan base.
Customers...yes even Lightning fans will turn their backs on a venue that doesn't deliver value. No matter how good the hockey is, if the fan, their family or their friends are treated rudely by the Forum staff, eventually they will watch the games at home or at an establishment that adds value to their experience.
No one trains customer service anymore and Mr. Vinik, you need to stop looking at your Forum staff members like throw away, easily replaceable parts and hire and train real, empowered people that give legendary customer service. No matter how good your executives, coaches and players are at their specific jobs, they are not the face of the franchise. They do not have customer contact. Your ticket scanners, security staff and ushers are the most important people in your organization.
Put your money into better hiring practices and exemplary customer service training. Bad customer service is the norm these days. How many times do you walk away from a business saying to yourself, "Wow, that person was really friendly, respectful and helpful?" Probably not many, but I bet you can still remember those few times vividly.
Treat me like I count; Treat me the way you want to be treated. I'll be back and spend my hard earned money again and again.
I'm not sure about the practicality, but since we're talking anything we would like to see, here goes: I'd love to see an arena with an ice skating rink in it. No, not the one the players are on, but another rink (not necessarily regulation size) that parents could take those kids who are too high strung or overly sugar-medicated to sit still
for an entire hockey game.
This rink would serve multiple purposes - First, give those "sugar-medicated" kids and their frazzled parent(s) something to do other than distract the fans around them trying to watch the game.
Second, it would give all those highly intoxicated "I could do better than (insert player name here) did on that play" kind of folks a place they could immediately go and try to show their equally intoxicated buddies just how well they could do, to the amusement of all.
Or Third, it would give the next generation's Vincent Lecavalier or Martin St. Louis the opportunity to immediately go try what they just saw their favorite player do on the ice.
So a second rink inside the arena could be very useful for everybody that attends an NHL game, no matter whether you actually use the rink or not.
I don't think this is really a feature out East, but where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the sports facilities were trending towards having a concourse open to the playing surface. In Safeco Field in Seattle, you can be standing in line buying garlic fries and still watch the game live from where you're standing. The first place I saw this was at a major junior arena in Canada. I was in Kamloops for the start of Kamloops Blazers training camp one year, and the whole place is wide open like that. You can watch the game from inside the concession stand if there's no one in line. I know that part of the St. Pete Times Forum renovation plans include for spots like this throughout the arena, but the places I've mentioned the entire facility was like this. It makes the game less formal and more fan-friendly, in my opinion, when the entire main concessions concourse is open to the playing surface.
Matt Amos (Don't Trade Vinny)
I think it would be sweet if the Forum found a way to put another ice rink in the building that would allow customers to skate before the game, during intermissions, on off-days etc. Ice time is at a premium in Florida anyway, and with one more rink it would open up a ton of possibilities, not to mention create a very unique attraction for fans.
On top of that, there's the business side of it. If done right, the rink could also be used for rec/beer leagues, birthday parties, etc. The money earned from those events would be nickels compared to the other events at the Forum (games, concerts, etc.) but every little bit helps.
So there you have some wishful thinking from us (and Tina and Matt are not allowed to sit next to each other in class any more).Now it's your turn; if Jeff Vinik gave you access to the checking account, what one improvement would you add to the Forum?