In seven years with Paul Allen's group running the Seattle Seahawks, Portland Trail Blazers, and Seattle Sounders FC, Leiweke established Seattle as a premier city for sports fandom. The Seahawks have the now-infamous "12th man" at their home games, and a "12th man" sensibility permeated through all of the teams Leiweke oversaw while working for Vulcan Sports and Entertainment. The Seattle Sounders FC went from an MLS expansion team to the league's best-known and top-attended team in just a single year. Built on a strong business foundation and centered on improving the fan experience wherever possible, Leiweke had a strong track record of establishing and growing outsanding sports brands.
It's no surprise, then, that in the past five years Leiweke's impact on revitalizing the Lightning as a premiere NHL franchise has been so strongly felt.
One of the first things the Lightning implemented under Vinik and Leiweke was to incentivize new season ticket purchases and reward loyal, existing season ticket holders by improving their in-arena experience. They worked with NCR to install RF (radio frequency) chips into 10,000 new STM-marked jerseys for the season ticket holders; they then installed RF readers in the various concession and gift shop areas in the arena, instantly granting STM members discounts when they attend games.
Always business savvy, however, the chips also let Leiweke and the Lightning's business side track spending patterns of the STM members, allowing them to collect valuable information about what people are or aren't buying.
In addition to the microchipped jerseys, Leiweke helped to spearhead owner Jeff Vinik's $42 million dollar investment in renovating the then Tampa Bay Times Forum (now Amalie Arena), a massive project that added new (more comfortable) seats, refurbished the concession areas (for fans with or without the STM chips), added new club levels, new restroom facilities, and the very popular Bud Light Party Deck.
The cherry on top was a brand new Daktronics video board added in 2012, then the largest of its kind, with a "state of the art" dedicated control room, a full high-definition signal, and 1,296 lines of resolution.
As it had been in Seattle, though, Leiweke's positive impact as a member of the front office goes far beyond work done for the fans while they're attending games.
Perhaps the biggest undertaking away from the arena proper has been Leiweke's work as part of Vinik's team acquiring assets and real estate around the arena with the goal of revitalizing the Channelside district and making it a fan-friendly destination for Tampa Bay residents -- using only private funds. The $7.1 million dollar bid at auction, $150 million dollar puchase of the Marriot Waterside Hotel, and $1 billion dollar 'vision plan' for Channelside are all projects Leiweke worked closely on -- again, with zero use of public funds.
Lewieke's past work in the Pacific Northwest with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen almost certainly played a role in securing Cascade Investments, LLC -- a Bill Gates' owned asset management/investment firm -- to help fund Vinik's vision plan, which has begun in earnest with a $10 million dollar line of credit to start with minor repairs.
Put simply, the Lightning have, over the past five years, transformed from an NHL laughingstock to Stanley Cup-contending team on the ice. That's Steve Yzerman's work, for which he has been recognized. But the Lightning have also transformed off the ice. That's Leiweke's work, and he deserves to be recognized, too.
To borrow former staffer Cassie McLellan's words when Leiweke was brought on in 2010:
And that's why you should care about who is CEO of the Lightning. That's why hiring Tod Leiweke matters. It will directly impact the fans, and in a good way. Today, the Seattle news media are lamenting the loss of Leiweke. Today, perhaps Lightning fans ought to be rejoicing in his joining the team. Because he will help make the team "world class" - literally.
Mission accomplished. Bon voyage, Mr. Leiweke.