It was announced Friday afternoon that Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke was resigning his role with Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, the parent company representing Tampa Bay Lightning team owner Jeff Vinik. Leiweke has served as Vinik's right-hand man since joining the organization on July 26, 2010 when he was lured away from the Seattle Seahawks parent company, Vulcan Sports and Entertainment, to join Vinik's fledgling organization in Tampa.
From the official team release:
Leiweke has served Vinik and the Lightning for the past five years as part of an executive team brought to the Lightning by Vinik with the vision of building a world class franchise on and off the ice. During that time, the Lightning has become one of the NHL's top franchises, winning the Eastern Conference Championship and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 while reaching new heights off the ice.
"Tod has been instrumental in our franchise transformation and I am grateful for all his work and dedication," said Vinik upon making the announcement. "During Tod's five years with the Lightning, we have set our franchise on a trajectory for excellence with Steve Griggs and an outstanding management team working beside him every step of the way. Steve is ready for the additional responsibilities that come with being CEO, and, as a testament to Tod, we will not miss a beat moving forward."
This is a surprising piece of news but it isn't surprising that another major organization in the sports and entertainment field is the one that lured Leiweke away. He becomes Chief Operating Officer of the National Football League, whose size and reach is quite intimidating. In fact, the rumors back in 2010 that Leiweke was being courted by Vinik to take the job as Lightning CEO was put down pretty well in football circles thanks to the fact that... well, he was working in the NFL, running the Seattle Seahawks.
The void of Leiweke's departure was immediately filled by Lightning team president Steve Griggs. From the press release:
Griggs has spent 22 years in the sports industry, holding leadership roles with Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the Minnesota Wild and the Orlando Magic. He was recruited to the expansion Wild in 1999 by Leiweke, and headed up a sales and service effort that set records for an expansion team. In 2007, Griggs left Minnesota to become Executive Vice President for the Orlando Magic, and was one of the key executives helping design, develop and launch the Amway Center in 2010.
Shortly thereafter, Griggs left the Magic after being recruited again by Leiweke to return to his native sport of hockey, and to become Chief Operating Officer of the Lightning. Under Griggs' leadership the Lightning's business operations unit is achieving new highs, projecting a season ticket base of more than 13,000 for the upcoming 2015-16 season. Griggs was named president of the organization on April 7, 2014.
"While I am saddened that a good friend and mentor is leaving the Lightning for the National Football League, I'd like to thank him for all his work in positioning the franchise for continued excellence as we move forward," said Griggs. "Tod is the best operator is team sports and he led an inspirational five-year brand and business transformation of the organization - we'll work hard to maintain the great track that Tod has set down for the team and the Tampa Bay community."
The biggest question that comes to mind with the departure of Leiweke from the organization isn't that of the Lightning directly but of Jeff Vinik's real estate work in downtown Tampa. Vinik has amassed some 27 acres of real estate in southern downtown near Amalie Arena and Channelside Bay Plaza (which Vinik now controls) with large scale redevelopment plans. Influence and plans and all that are generally something we still don't know much about. Those will come to light in due time. For the moment all we can do is wish Leiweke well and thank him for his time as well as marvel at his contribution in making the Bolts an impressive organization to behold.