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New team owner creates positive image by opening wallet, connecting with community

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For some people, sports are a passing occurrence of overly paid men who don’t appreciate the ability to play a game, and get paid handsomely, for a living. With the recent lockouts of the NFL and the NBA, public relations personnel have had their hands full trying to reshape images that have been greatly damaged.

By arguing over how to divide millions of dollars, sports teams are losing touch with their fans. With barely enough money to keep the water running in their homes, fans find it difficult to devote money to sports teams normally, let alone in a down economy. When they do have enough money to spend on tickets or memorabilia, team owners find ways to raise prices and guarantee more money for their over flowing pockets.

One team in Tampa, Fla. is attempting to avoid this public relations blunder and reconnect with their fans. The owner of the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Vinik, has created a positive buzz about his involvement with the area.

Vinik announced in February 2011 a plan to invest $40 million of his own money to renovate the St. Pete Times Forum, the Lightning’s home stadium.  This included the removal of more than 500 seats and the installation of a “party deck” that would allow more fans to see the action on the ice while walking around the concourse.

Vinik said the project wouldn’t use a single penny from taxpayers. He also announced that he and his wife would donate $10 million of their own money to deserving community heroes and charity partners in the community through the Lightning Foundation.

He has also commissioned the team’s PR staff to use social media to create a new and fun way for fans to win tickets. They decided to offer fans the chance to win two free tickets by participating in a Twitter scavenger hunt.

The team hid two tickets for front row seats in the community and set up a map online of the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater area, stating the tickets were hidden at a location on the map. The person who found the tickets would be sitting in those seats for the team’s home opening day.

But, the only way for fans to find these tickets would be to sign on to their Twitter account and include the team’s slogan, #BetheThunder, in a tweet. For each milestone of tweets containing this phrase, the map would gradually zoom in on the area where the tickets were located. Nearly 800 tweets and five hours later, a lucky fan found the tickets at a local McDonalds. The tickets normally cost at least $300, but the community awareness it produced is priceless.

From a PR standpoint, there is nothing better than telling a community living with a near 10% unemployment rate that their multi-millionaire team owner cares about the community enough to donate money and fund projects for his investments without using tax dollars. Most owners feel that if the community can enjoy the festivities, they should pay for it too, further disconnecting them from the fans.

It takes many people and departments working in unison to run a successful sports franchise. But no matter how business savvy the franchise is, without fans, there is no franchise. With the spotlight shining unfavorably on sports teams, Vinik and the Lightning have used a creative marketing scheme and good old fashioned selflessness to create a positive image within their community.

About Tyler: Tyler is a project manager with PR NewsChannel. If you have your own opinion on his writings, he encourages comments and emails at .


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