I'm not front running here--I have liked Tampa since Martin St. Louis showed the league smaller forwards could still play with grit in 2002-2003. I always loved Vinny. How can you not? I was happy for the Southeast team to win the Cup in spring of 2004. I played two games against a 15 year old Steven Stamkos in a tournament in Toronto.
But when the new owner, Jeff Vinik, came in with guns blazing, hiring Stevie Y as General Manager I knew this was an ORGANIZATION looking towards the horizon. Stevie brought in veteran winger Simon Gagne while clearing cap. He made a mid-season trade for an experienced goalie in Dwayne Roloson that has turned their fortunes in net around. However it is not just the personnel decision being made in Tampa that has me so excited.
Let's face it, the draw down in Tampa Bay is not very big. A lot of other teams are having attendance problems throughout the league. So the Lightning have decided to attack this problem by winning (which as discussed above, has them in 3rd in the NHL) and through better facilities and marketing.
The Lightning have announced a $35million dollar renovation project for the St.Pete's Forum. Here is the photos of the plans ( http://lightning.nhl.com/club/gallery.htm?id=20118 )
Now, here is the best part. The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to release new jerseys with a new design logo next year.
And if you are a season ticket holder you get one of these jerseys for free. Yes. FREE. It will be a special edition of the home jerseys. The special edition will consist of a microchip in the sleeve that will act as a ticket and an identifying device at concession stands and gift shops. The chip will allow season ticket holders 35% discount on merch purchased at games and 25% discount on all concessions. That is how you build fan loyalty.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have a great young core of players, a great front office, an owner committed to making the organization "iconic" and an aspiration to create a loyal relationship with their fans. This is going to be big, and I would not be surprised to see other teams try to copy this. However, the one thing the Lightning have that a lot of teams who will try this to fix their attendance problems don't have is Steven Stamkos.