How The Tampa Bay Lightning Went From One-Of-The-Worst To First

How The Tampa Bay Lightning Went From One-Of-The-Worst To First

How the Tampa Bay Lightning grew to become the Number One Franchise in North American sports.
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Tampa Bay Lightning

From below-average fan attendance, up to Number 1 Franchise in North America.

"Be the Thunder."

The statement marks the conclusion of nearly every other mid-game commercial on Fox Sports Sun, and finds itself branded upon bulletin boards sprinkled throughout the Bay Area. It is mixed in with footage of ravaging hits, soundtracks of boisterous applause, and... the fans. In fact, the commercials rarely depict the players, preferring instead to depict the heartache, the excitement, the goosebumps involved in being a fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The subject of the commercial is not about the hockey team, rather the city that hosts the team itself.

To truly appreciate how far the Lightning have come as a franchise over the past decade, one must first understand just how low the franchise had fallen in the former years. In the 2007-2008 season, the Lightning found themselves in the cellar of the Eastern Conference, dead last in points at the All-Star Break. They earned the first overall pick that year, and used it to bring in Steven Stamkos, who was eventually named the 10th captain of the team. The Lightning fired John Tortorella, the coach of their 2004 Stanley Cup winning team, but fared no better the following season under Barry Melrose, who was released after only 16 games. After finishing the 2008-2009 season with their lowest point total in eight years, the Lightening secured the second overall draft pick, and proceeded to acquire star defenseman Victor Hedman.

Steven Stamkos (right) and Victor Hedman (left) were the Lightning's number one draft picks in 2008 and 2009, respectively. They both signed contract extensions in 2016 to remain in Tampa through 2024. (Photo by Jim McIsaac via Getty Images)

"Be the Thunder."

The statement is the motto of a Tampa Bay Lightning fan-retention campaign, aimed towards amassing a following so - dare we say it? - thunderous that a southern, warm city would actually be able to host a sport that is dominated by cold weather northerners. Its arrival coincided that of a new era in the franchise, bookmarked by the Bolts being purchased by Jeffery Vanik in February of 2010. Vanik immediately got to work, appointing Hall of Fame player and former Detroit Red Wings vice president Steve Yzerman as the general manager, then hiring Guy Boucher to serve as the head coach.

According to the ESPN NHL Attendance Report for 2010, the Lightning ranked 18th out of 30 teams in regards to their attendance. With less than 90% attendance, the Lightning set goals for themselves to increase fan attendance, television viewership, and most importantly, get the community connected to the team, despite what the record is in a given season.

Two months into the 2010-2011 season, following the change of ownership and hiring of Steve Yzerman, the Bolts found themselves in a completely new position. They were atop the Eastern Conference, and managed to qualify for playoffs for the first time in four years. Making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup winning Boston Bruins, the playoff push marked a window of opportunity for the franchise to reach into the community and strengthen its ties to the fans. Their mission statement included increasing the amount of season ticket holders and sell-out games, and as the Lightning were progressing through the post season, they provided their season ticket holders with over 10,000 free jerseys, each embedded with a microchip that discounted their purchases at Amalie Arena.


Prior to being appointed the Lightning GM in 2010, Steve Yzerman spent his entire NHL career in Detroit before retiring and eventually being inducted into the hall of fame. (Photo by Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports)

The Lightning did not stop there. As they were utilizing methods to increase the overall fan experience, the franchise was also focusing on strategic marketing. According to a case study by John R. Luecke, an Advertising and Public Relations professor at High Point University, the Tampa Bay Lightning turned to an Atlanta ad agency, 22squared, to help spearhead their mission and reach goals they had laid out for themselves prior to the 2011-2012 season. The franchise invested in digital billboards to advertise upcoming games and events in high traffic areas. They increased their presence on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, growing them 103% and 26%, respectively.

Thus, the statement was born:

"Be the Thunder."

Despite the obvious spin-off of the team name, the three words represent something greater than just a pun. Similarly to Texas A&M University's "12th Man", it provided an identity for the fans, making them feel involved by setting a common goal that any individual could contribute towards: making noise. The Lightning wanted their fans to be loud and to be proud, and the fans did not disappoint.

Despite the Tampa Bay Lightning failing to make the playoffs the next two seasons following the Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Bruins, their ranks in the ESPN NHL Attendance improved each year, all the way up to a high of 8th overall in 2013. After Guy Boucher was replaced by Jon Cooper, the Lightning again managed to see the post season in 2014. Their stay was brief, however, as they were met with a four-game sweep at the hands of the Montreal Canadiens in the first round.

The Lightning built upon their successes of the previous year, making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 before succumbing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Suddenly, there was a spark in the air, and the Tampa community was walking with a swagger in their step. Lightning decals covered cars, the logo emblazoned upon banners all up and down Bayshore Boulevard. At this point, the franchise was boasting a 96.4% attendance rate, and an increase in the average attendance by over 1,100 fans since Vanik acquired it according to Leucke. Social media exploded during the playoffs, with fans demanding that "Stanley get a tan."

The Lightning's "triplet line" of Nikita Kucherov (left), Ondrej Palat (middle left), and Tyler Johnson (middle right) quickly gained fame during the 2015 season as one of the most dangerous trios in the NHL. (Getty Images)

Following their runner-up year, the Bolts managed to return to the Eastern Conference Finals again in 2016, being bested by the Pittsburgh Penguins in a seven game series prior to the Pens' eventual Stanley Cup victory over San Jose. For the third straight year, the community felt a disappointment from the results of a post-season run, and it would have made sense for the support to demand changes be made. It would have made sense for the fans to want their team to build upon their previous shortcomings. It would have made sense for fans to vocalize their displeasure with the results, despite valiant effort by the players to stay afloat.

However, the support did not halt.

In October of 2016, the Tampa Bay Lightning was ranked the Number One Professional Sports Franchise by ESPN Ultimate Standings in a comparison of 122 north american franchises. Their commitment to the Tampa community and the individual fan experience were especially noted, given that the other Tampa sports franchises (Buccaneers, Rays) did not finish in the top half of the polling. The article's author, Peter Keating, explained that the results were "[derived from] fan surveys and financial analysis" in regards to how the fans are rewarded for their emotional and financial investments to the franchise.

On January 8th, the Lightning dropped their fourth straight game in a rematch of the previous year's conference finals against the Penguins. In a year plagued with injuries and defensive miscues, the Bolts dropped to 19-19-4 on the season they find themselves within two losses of last place in the Eastern Conference, and the Tampa community is growing weary of the seemingly incurable ailments that have afflicted the team. The thunder has grown angry and impatient with the efforts being made on the ice.

But angry thunder is still just as loud. Possibly even louder. Halfway through the season, the Bolts are on pace to have a 7th ranked attendance, their highest since 2006. The Lightning have succeeded in what they set out to do 10 years ago, and have cemented themselves so deeply within the Tampa community that even a sub-.500 record cannot stop the growth of supporters.

Throughout the cold streaks of this season, Jon Cooper and his players have repeatedly mentioned overcoming adversity. It is no secret that the team needs to do so in the second half of this season in order to reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, and further the cause of bringing the Stanley Cup south for a tan. So long as the franchise continues their efforts of growing the support for the team, and the existing fans continue to be thunderous, there is no plateau that can hold down the Bolts for the foreseeable future.

Cover Image Credit: Chris Urso, Staff at TBO

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If You Wear XL T-Shirts And Shorts, You're The Woman Of My Dreams

Enough with the war on comfort!
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Comfortable can be sexy, simply put.

For some reason there are people complaining out there about the Southern college trend that has been happening the past few years: big t-shirts and shorts, also known as the "srat uniform." There seems to be a clash between the girls who dress "nice" most of the time and girls who dress for comfort. As a guy, I don't see what the big deal is?

For college in the South, there are two reasons to dress up: college football (Roll Tide) and date parties. Any other time, you can find a majority of the female population in shorts and a big t-shirt that makes it look like they're not wearing pants. As a man, I personally don't see anything wrong with this. I love being comfortable as much as the next person, and most guys find the baggy t-shirt and shorts outfit to be cute. There's always a time and place for dresses and rompers.

But for all the haters out there that call these girls in XL t-shirts and shorts lazy, you've got it all wrong.

There are 4 reasons why the girls who don the "srat uniform" have it all figured out.

1. Girls have it rough.

See, it's tough being a girl. I don't know from experience, but I hear it enough and I've seen it enough to know it's true. When girls aren't dealing with f***boys, periods or having to do their hair and makeup routinely, they are being overly criticized by our society. I think society owes girls a break, and that break comes in the comfortable baggy t-shirt and shorts.

2. Southern Not-So-Comfort(able) weather.

Also, for all of the haters, maybe y'all haven't noticed that it's hotter than Satan's balls in the South! Tight, dressy outfits and pants constrict the body and cause you to sweat. I'd rather see a dry girl in a baggy t-shirt than a girl drenched in sweat trying to look cute with her outfit.

3. Perfect doesn't exist.

It's admirable when a girl can unapologetically be herself. A girl in an XL t-shirt and shorts is a girl that is saying "yes, I may have just rolled out of bed and brushed my hair, but I'm here dammit." Social media tells us we all have to be the dolled up, most "perfect" version of ourselves all the time, so it's nice to experience that reality check.

4. Guys think it's cute, regardless.

9 times out of 10, guys in college do not care what you're wearing. Trust me, we aren't doing much better. You could probably put on a garbage bag and we still think you're cute. Any guy that dates a girl that dates a girl only because she dresses nicely all of the time is a shallow man. You're cute, you're comfortable, and that makes for a much better vibe. We all win.

So, in the battle of dressing "nice" and dressing comfortable, I think that the girls who wear an XL t-shirt and shorts chalk up a win in my record book. No, I'm not bashing on girls who have a true sense of style and wear nice clothing... that's a great thing in itself! But, this is college and there are more important things to focus on besides what we're wearing.

Ladies, wear your srat uniform with pride. Some us think it's cute :)

*I want to thank the beautiful ladies at the University of Alabama for inspiring this article.*

Cover Image Credit: Pinterest

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Earl Thomas Wants a Contract Extension and The Seahawks Need To Make A Choice

The Seattle Seahawks have a decision to make.

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Earl Thomas is holding out from the Seattle Seahawks' mandatory practice activities. The 29-year-old veteran safety, who has consistently earned Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors throughout his career, is seeking a contract extension from Seattle that will likely make him the highest-paid safety in the NFL.

Entering the final year of his four-year, $40 million contract extension that he signed in 2014, Thomas released a statement on social media stating that he wishes to have his contract situation taken care of as soon as possible and that he will not participate in mandatory team activities until he gets what he desires. This has caused a considerable amount of drama across the league and rampant speculation about the Seahawks possibly trading him to another team, particularly the Dallas Cowboys.

Thomas has been an integral part of Seattle's historic "Legion of Boom," which propelled the team to a victory in Super Bowl XLVIII and is considered to be one of the best defensive backfields in NFL history. In addition, Thomas himself has earned recognition across the league as one of the best safeties in football's recent memory. A six-time Pro Bowler and five-time All-Pro, Thomas excels at playing the middle of the field and erasing deep completions. Given that a player of his caliber is so rare, it is only natural that Thomas desires a contract extension of the highest order.

The thing is, Seattle is already quite tight against the salary cap over the next few years. They may have enough room to re-sign Thomas to an extension he wants, but they have traded away and released key components to their defense to free up cap space for the future. They claim to be in re-tooling mode, and signing a 29-year-old player to a massive contract does not seem ideal for many in that situation.

In addition, Thomas has drawn fire for telling Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to "come get me" if they had the opportunity after Seattle's Week 16 victory over Dallas last season. Thomas, a Texas native, later clarified that he meant that he wants to play for the Cowboys if the Seahawks choose to part ways with him. The safety has reiterated several times that he wishes to remain in Seattle for the rest of his career, but the storm of drama he has created will not stop until something is done about his situation.

On the other hand, dealing Thomas would create yet another void at a very important position in the game. Despite the overhaul of some key positions, it would be less than optimal for any team to cut ties with certain players who could still serve as key pieces in the future. Thomas could be one of those players. He is, after all, a generational talent at the safety position that no team can hope of finding in every draft that comes along. Thomas seems like he still has at least a few years of All-Pro caliber football left in him and he could be instrumental in speeding up this re-tooling process.

This much is clear: Thomas is holding out for a contract extension, and the Seahawks must make a decision that will impact both the organization and Thomas' future with the team.

Cover Image Credit:

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