How to resurrect a hockey franchise in 402 days

Raw Charge

More than four years ago, a chart by James Mirtle showed (through attendance) how the situation in Tampa was on a torrid decline. Four years later, we revisit that chart to reflect how things have been thriving.

A couple of years ago, our former colleague on SB Nation highlighted the rapid decline of the Tampa Bay Lightning at the box office. James Mirtle, formerly of From The Rink and now at the Globe and Mail, showed the freefall (month to month) of the Bolts under the leadership of former owners OK (Not Really) Hockey.

The 2007-08 season was a low point for the Lightning on the ice, but attendance was still quite strong in spite of that - the Lightning drew an average attendance of 18,692 for the season. That's 94.6 percent of the arena's then-capacity of 19,758.

I make the comparison to 2007-08 because of the mire of this past season's team performance as well as the fact the Lightning were near-capacity at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the duration of the 2013 season. Arena capacity is now 19,205 (having been reduced during the building renovation in 2011) and the season average attendance was 19,055, or 99.2 percent of building capacity. That was good enough to rank the Bolts 8th in the league in average home attendance.

Since owner Jeff Vinik purchased the Lightning, attendance has rebounded as such:

Season

Attendance Average

% of Capacity

League rank

2010-2011*

17,268*

87.4*

18th

2011-2012

18,468

96.2

13th

2013

19,055

99.2

8th

Average totals

18,264

94.2

13th

*denotes arena capacity was 19758 at the time

Of course, these numbers are the dubious "inflated" numbers of tickets sold - not turnstile, butts-in-seats attendance data. Another point to mention is that the franchise stopped reporting on the Forum going beyond sellout capacity. While the official capacity for the Forum is 19,205, the building's max capacity hovers likely somewhere above 21,000.

What you can take from the chart leading into this story is a direct contrast to what James Mirtle was reporting in December 2009. The data, starting where Mirtle left off, shows the obvious growth trend and stabilization that's taken place after Vinik took control of the team on March 3rd, 2010.

Is this a testament about solid ownership? Perhaps; perhaps it's an endorsement of how Leiweke, Steve Griggs and the rest of the executive staff under Vinik run the business and inspire fan investment through attending games. Perhaps it's a vote of confidence in the stewardship of the hockey team under GM Steve Yzerman?

I'd like to think it's more likely a positive reflection on Tampa Bay as a hockey market. The OK Hockey era of mismanagement and other bad memories tied to it was an anomaly, an aberration, for the overall welfare of the sport of hockey and the NHL in Tampa Bay.

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