During Fan Fest at the Amalie on Saturday morning, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik participated in a question and answer session with fans inside the arena. Some of his statements should be reassuring to fans (insert loud and proud statement directed at Steven Stamkos here) while another should illicit confidence in a competitive variety. From TBO:
"Frankly we were losing a lot of money when we first bought the team, and now we are losing a little bit of money,'' Vinik said. "It's been such a fun experience over the past five years. Our mission to try and become the Green Bay Packers of the NHL, to try and become world class, we are gaining on both of those. But we still have a ways to go, and when we get there I will raise the targets because you can't stop chasing excellence.''
Vinik's quote shouldn't be taken just for the direct comparison to the Green Bay Packers football team. If you're thinking sports, and of course you are because you're reading a hockey blog, you're thinking of how the Packers are a small market club but routinely competitive and have the Super Bowl rings to prove how the franchise is legendary. Hell, former Packers head coach Vince Lombardi is who the NFL's championship trophy is named for.
But it's not just competition that the Packers are known for. They're known for being very much part of the community in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Hell, they are the community in Green Bay. The fans actually own the team, the players are known for being part of the community.
But the "Green Bay Packers of the NHL" is best described in detail by the man himself. Mr. Vinik's comment wasn't just an improvisational remark for a hungry fan contingent on hand on Saturday. The truth is Vinik has been invoking the analogy for almost two years (at least). In a remark, republished in Tampa Bay Business Journal, Jeff Vinik told Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal the following:
Our not immodest goal is to be the Green Bay Packers of the NHL. Will we get there? I don't know. Will it take 60 years? I don't know. But that's the direction we're trying to get to. The people of Green Bay love their team and everything it stands for, and we want our fans to believe in us and what we're doing in the community.
In this regard, I don't think the goal of building a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, or buying the Rays franchise for that matter (as I hear so often from locals) is really the best objective for Vinik and his team. Lightning fans, and Rays fans and Buccaneers fans, are so used to local sports owners being involved in their little niche - sports - locally and not much through general civic involvement in a public way. Vinik's intention is clearly broader than sports (regarding his land buys and recent business disclosures by franchise CEO Tod Leiweke). He wants to have success with his club - and wants us to embrace it as our club, as our team, as our sport.
The "Green Bay Packers of the NHL" remark translates into more than the franchises determination to be a talking point in the media and competitive on the field of play. The ambition of Jeff Vinik and the Lightning organization at current is to be the identity of Tampa Bay, and one that is embraced.