Lightning owner launches new business verticals


Tampa Bay Lightning - Vinik Sports Group Image: Tampa Bay Lightning

Jeff Vinik, the Chairman and Governor of the professional ice hockey team based at Tampa, Florida, in the US – Tampa Bay Lightning – has set in motion a new sports and entertainment firm that will serve as the parent company of the National Hockey League (NHL) ice hockey franchise and the lease-holding entity for the team’s Amalie Arena.

The new parent company floated is Vinik Sports Group (VSG). With the creation of VSG, he has expanded his company’s sports and entertainment portfolio. The parent company is also expanding its focus to provide event, facilities management, sales and fan experience services on a more regional basis.

VSG, which takes the place of its precursor Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment, will continue to run the show for Lightning.

Tampa Bay Lightning competes in the NHL as a member of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference. The Amalie Arena serves as the residence of the NHL ice hockey franchise. Amalie Arena has served as the Lightning’s home since it went on stream in 1996. Vinik bought the Lightning team in the year 2010.

With this launch, Vinik Sports Group (VSG) also becomes the umbrella brand for three new business verticals: VSG Commercial Sales, VSG Facilities and VSG Live. VSG creates one of a kind experience that grows brands, drive revenues and impact the community. VSG’s workforce stands at 230.

The Lightning informed that VSG will be marketed locally and regionally as a company that can “assist other companies with facility management, live event creation and execution, partnership development and ticket sales”. A website devoted solely to the new company has been launched and the organization will use the #VinikSportsGroup hashtag across its social channels.

VSG Commercial Sales will push to boost revenue for businesses by using to maximum advantage experienced partnerships and ticketing teams supported by consumer marketing and analytics. Lightning’s tickets, suites and partnerships sales will be managed by VSG Commercial Sales and it will also be responsible for multimedia rights for the University of South Florida’s athletics department and digital media company The Identity Tampa Bay. The division will be spearheaded by the Chief Marketing and Revenue Officer of VSG, Jarrod Dillon. It has also assisted in ticket sales functions for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE’s) WrestleMania 36 and has helped in selling more than 10,000 tickets for the event to be held on April 5, 2020, at Raymond James Stadium.

VSG Facilities will run front-of-house and back-of-house services. It already manages and operates Amalie Arena, Yuengling Center (a multipurpose facility) in the University of South Florida campus and the recently opened Embarc Collective, a local non-profit which assists start-up companies to thrive. The Executive Vice-President and Arena General Manager of Tampa Bay Lightning, Darryl Benge, will head VSG Facilities.

VSG Live will offer full-service event management expertise for live event experiences throughout Tampa Bay. It will take over the reins of all events at Amalie Arena and Yuengling Center, and has also struck a deal with the Tampa Sports Authority to serve as a ticketing solution for select events at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (professional American football team) which competes in the National Football League (NFL). The division will be led by the Executive Vice-President of Event Management at VSG, Kevin Preast.

Stated Vinik, “I am pleased to move our organization forward in this exciting new direction. We have a wonderfully talented leadership team that has worked well with our dedicated staff to transform the Tampa Bay Lightning, Amalie Arena and our related businesses. We look forward to sharing our expertise in the industry with others that share our values while they look to grow their businesses and the relationships with those that they serve.”

“The creation of Vinik Sports Group is an evolution of our growing sports and entertainment portfolio. The sports group will be open to working with all kinds of events, activities and venues where fans and patrons visit,” he added.

Without going into much detail, he admitted that he could envision the company building up partnerships to manage everything from Major League Baseball (MLB) team ballparks to event venues the size of Ruth Eckerd Hall – the 73,000-square-foot performing arts venue, located at the Tampa Bay area in US.

“For the foreseeable future, I believe our activity will be in the Tampa Bay area. The company is in some discussions with potential partners but has no new deals ready to announce. If we’re successful with some of these activities around here, can we expand further than that? Yes, but we’re taking it one step at a time. We’re not in a hurry,” he said.

Griggs asserted, “I do think we are particularly good at managing the fan experience, the customer experience, at events.”

Based on fan surveys, ESPN named the Lightning the No 1 team in terms of Ultimate Standings in 2016 for the fan experience across NHL, NFL, National Basketball Association (NBA) and MLB. The team has sold out more than 200 consecutive regular season home games and says its cash registers are jingling, though executives did not reveal what those revenues are.

Strategic Property Partners – the development company formed with Cascade Investment to focus on Water Street Tampa – and Vinik Family Office – will remain as separate entities.

Water Street Tampa is a huge mixed-use development project coming up at Florida. It is expected to be completed in the latter half of 2021.

Almost 10 years to the week after he bought the Tampa Bay Lightning, Jeff Vinik has expanded his business again.

Lightning head honcho Steve Griggs will be the CEO at Vinik Sports Group, the parent company for the Lightning. Its assets also will include The Identity Tampa Bay, an online sports and lifestyle hub launched in 2018, and Tampa Bay Sports, which sells sports apparel through an e-commerce platform and from two brick-and-mortar stores at Amalie Arena and International Plaza. Griggs joined as Lightning’s top boss in the year 2010.

Stated Griggs, “The goal behind the expansion of the Vinik Sports Group is to build on strengths that Vinik’s business team already has developed.”

For example, the company already has put to good use its knowledge of data about the ticket market to assist fans to grab seats at the Pro Bowl held in Orlando in January this year.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor commented, “Along the way, Vinik has brought the community together as a team owner. If you can make a 60-year-old Tampanian who’s never been on ice skates a rabid hockey fan, you’re doing something right.”

The Lightning entered the world of haute couture by launching a lifestyle line to accompany their new black and grey alternate jersey. The lifestyle line’s target customers are the millennials and include shirts, hats, drink tumblers, pop sockets, and skateboards.

In October last year, soft drink giant PepsiCo inked a long-term partnership with the Lightning.

The restructuring which has led to the birth of VSG includes a degree of improvization as geyser of opportunities open up.

“There’s been an evolution over the last 10 years,” stated Vinik, who closed on what is estimated to be a $110 million purchase of the Lightning on March 3, 2010. The team came with 6 acres of land near the arena, and over the years Vinik bought more. Initially, he simply thought it would be good to control what happened around the arena. Later, he started going in for strategic purchases.

Vinik eventually teamed up with Cascade Investment, the personal holding and investment company of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, on $3 billion worth of development, encompassing skyscrapers, hotels, office towers and amenities, in the 56-acre Water Street Tampa overhauling project.

Sums up Vinik, “I had no idea that we would be doing something so huge, frankly, when I bought the team. Just as in 2010, when I had no idea what we’d be involved with in 2020, I guess even I don’t know some of the things we may be doing over the next 10 years.”

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