Question of the Week: The Tampa Bay - Syracuse connection

The Syracuse Crunch's home rink -- The War Memorial - © Scott Thomas and used with permission

With the affiliation between the Lightning and the Crunch approaching its first year anniversary, we look at the connection between the two teams and what could be done to make it stronger.

As a Syracuse Crunch fan, I've always tried to be interested in our parent club's business. Although one previously affiliated organization -- the red, white and blue one -- made that difficult, others were more welcoming and pleasant. They made it easy to care about our kinship and our common cause. I have definitely found the Tampa Bay Lightning to be in latter group so far. It's been a lot of fun getting to know the organization over the past nine months or so.

One of the things I've always championed is a strong connection between the fan base of our parent club and our own fan base. I think it's important that both sets of fans have easy ways to feel like they're involved. Although distance makes this hard, I was curious as to what my Tampa friends here on Raw Charge felt about how that connection is doing, and what the Crunch, the Lightning, or both organizations, could do to improve it.

Our question of the week: Organizational-wise, is there anything more the Syracuse Crunch could be doing to reach out and make connections with Tampa Bay fans?

Cassie McClellan - Raw Charge staff writer

Perhaps surprisingly, there seems to be an increasing interest in the Lightning's AHL affiliate. Of course, the team winning the Calder Cup last season, and then some Lightning fans following them during the lockout to pass the time, has certainly helped. Before last season, pretty much most Lightning fans couldn't have cared less about the prospects in the AHL - except for maybe how they could help out the Lightning when they come up to the NHL. And even that's a big "maybe".

Before, Lightning fans would insist upon trading players for other NHL players when the team wasn't playing well. Now, they're talking about trading guys away to make room for prospects. That's never really happened among Lightning fans before this season. Some of that might be the quality of the prospects in the system, but really, I think it's just the fact that they won a championship followed by an NHL lockout that's really brought up their profile in Tampa.

I'd like to see the Syracuse Crunch play a couple of regular season games in Tampa, actually. While fans may not turn out in the numbers that they will for the Lightning, chances are, they'll still get a good crowd. And I think that the fans would really enjoy seeing them.

I'd also like to see some cross-promotional stuff in the Lightning's online store. It'd be nice to be able to by Crunch stuff there. Maybe not a lot, and maybe nothing big, but t-shirts would be great. I can see some player t-shirts being big - like Radko Gudas or Brett Connolly, perhaps. Some of the guys who have been up and down should go over well.

Clark Brooks - Raw Charge staff writer

There are probably lots of things they could try to do, but I'm not sure it would be worth the effort. It's not the Crunch's fault, but Tampa Bay has never shown much interest in minor league sports. It hasn't stopped dozens of would-be moguls from trying to tap into what they perceived as a minor league goldmine, though.
In the 80's, we had a championship winning Continental Basketball Association team in the Thrillers who fled for South Dakota (there's a migration pattern you don't hear about very often).

In the late 80's, fans everywhere embraced the folksy charms, quirky nicknames and wacky promotions of minor league baseball, spurring a nationwide boom... except in Tampa Bay, where teams in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Dunedin routinely drew (and continue to draw) fewer than 300 fans a game. The St. Pete Parrots were a hockey team that closed their offices one day during their inaugural season and never re-opened. Similarly, the Tampa Bay Thunder Dawgs of the rebooted American Basketball Association (ABA) folded in the middle of their first season a few years later. Most recently, another ABA entity, the Tampa Bay Rain, went from delusions of selling out the Expo Hall at the Tampa Bay Fairgrounds (original home site of the Lightning) to a high school gym to giving up, failing to complete their inaugural season. Oh, and I think there have been a football team or two over the years too.

The lone exception to the area's general apathy toward the minors would probably be the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, which many would argue is not actually a minor league sport, and even they don't draw like they did in their glory years in the '90s.

There's no doubt more Bill Veeck wannabes will come along with what they think will be The Next Big Thing in smaller scale sports and I fully expect Tampa Bay fans to unite as one and yawn every single time.
The point being, if local fans didn't embrace any of these teams that actually played their games in the area, I can't imagine anything the Crunch could do from over 1,000 miles away to generate any significant support.

John Fontana - Raw Charge managing editor

When I first read the question, I started thinking outside the organization. Oh, Tampa Bay and Syracuse could be closer through marketing - and I don't mean team promotions as-so-much tourism bureaus. Both cities are in destination areas -- Tampa and the greater Tampa Bay area doesn't just have hockey but is also a winter reprieve for residents from the northern climates. And upstate New York is something to behold, especially in the spring and fall (for hockey season sake - summer would be included but the Crunch won't be playing then).

I also think a more conscious media reach is necessary - the local beat writers only give casual asides to Syracuse in their writing. And it's partly because of that weak coverage (and previously traditionally weak minor league affiliates for the Lightning) that a segment of the fan base is tuned out to Syracuse: There's the Lightning and nothing more (which is a cruel mistake for the sake of love of this sport and love of the franchise.)

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