Tampa Bay Lightning named best sports franchise by ESPN's Ultimate Rankings

The Lightning franchise has been ranked first out of 122 teams across four leagues.

Jeff Vinik's dedication to the Tampa Bay Lightning has not been ignored. Earlier today, ESPN's Ultimate Rankings ranked the Tampa Bay Lightning the best franchise out of 122 teams across all four US sports leagues. When informed about the honor, both Ryan Callahan and Jon Cooper pointed immediately to the magician behind the curtain, praising Vinik's role in raising the franchise's value from 70th in ESPN's rankings in 2010 when he bought the team, to third last year, to first.

According to BizJournals, this is not the only award that the franchise has been nominated for this year. Another accolade includes Sports Business Journal's Sports Team of the Year. Steve Griggs, Lightning CEO, told BizJournals that the struggle to climb from middle-of-the-pack to first took enormous effort: "It was hard. People think we sprinkled pixie dust and it all just happened. It didn’t. It was a lot of hard work by 185 employees that bought into not only the vision but the commitment. And it’s not just 185 full-time people, it’s the 800 people who work here every single night for a hockey game."

Earlier this year, Raw Charge wrote an appreciative article about Jeff Vinik, focusing on the role he played in bringing life and deep involvment to the Tampa Bay Lightning. We wrote:

Vinik dedicated himself to the team, the franchise and to the Tampa Bay community. He started from the top with two world class executive talents: one to handle the hockey side and one to handle the business side.

First was hiring one of the greatest hockey minds available in Steve Yzerman to be the general manager after his apprenticeship in the Detroit Red Wings front office. For the business side, Tod Leiweke was hired as the CEO.

One of the first major steps that Vinik took was investing $35 million into upgrading the then-St. Pete Times Forum (now known as Amalie Arena). The organization put the money out up-front and sought partial reimbursement through county tourist taxes with a promise to pay the entirety even if the county could not come up with the money.

Those upgrades brought all new seats throughout the arena, new heating and cooling systems, locker room makeovers, the party deck, and two of the signature pieces of the arena: The pipe organ and the tesla coils. Vinik followed that up with an additional $25 million upgrade plan with half being paid for by the franchise and the other half by Hillsborough County that made upgrades to the club level and still has further upgrades to be done.

Under Vinik, the franchise has also been highly involved in charities through the Lightning Foundation and most prominently with the Community Heroes program. Every home game, the Lightning Foundation gives $50,000 to charity in recognition of people in the local community that are making a difference through their charitable works. Since initiating the program, the team has given over $5 million dollars and Vinik recently pledged another $5 million dollars to continue the program over the next five years.

Read more about Vinik's work to build the franchise here.