Tampa Bay Lightning
Leiweke's top priority: appease Bolts' fans
TAMPA - New Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke wasted little time reaching out to disaffected supporters hungry for a reason to believe in a franchise that has struggled on and off the ice since the 2004 Stanley Cup chase. Leiweke, a life-long hockey fan who has spent the past seven years as billionaire Paul Allen's sports overseer in the Pacific Northwest, was formally introduced Wednesday as the head of the Lightning's business operations. Jeff Vinik sat proudly between Leiweke and general manager Steve Yzerman, two new franchise cornerstones who will report directly to the Lightning's new owner. "Tod has an unparalleled, 100-percent record of success in every organization he's been part of,'' said Vinik, who pried Leiweke out of Seattle with the additional lure of part ownership. "Like Steve, he's a really good guy and a guy I like a lot. I'm so convinced Tod's the right guy to lead the organization on the business side that I'm very happy to say I've welcomed him as my partner as an owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.'' After praising and thanking Allen as a model owner, Leiweke said he's eager to get started in Tampa, where the Lightning often have played in front of a half-empty arena in recent seasons."We're going to stand for our fans,'' Leiweke said. "Our fans are going to be at the top of the pyramid and I'm one of them. At the top are our season-ticket holders and this morning I bought six season tickets. I know for Steve and the team, if we can fill this building with the passion we saw here during that Stanley Cup run, it's going to contribute to winning. "We're going to do everything we can to fill this building and we're going to do it with great reverence for hockey. I love hockey. I respect it and we will never challenge any of the traditions of hockey. The brand of the Lightning will emulate largely from the vision that Steve has for the team.'' Before joining the Seahawks, Leiweke served as president and CEO of the Minnesota Wild, an NHL expansion franchise that experienced instant success in filling its arena. Leiweke said the Lightning will stress community involvement as a distressed franchise seeks to reconnect with its fan base. "If you do this business right, you can make a difference in the lives of people,'' Leiweke said. "We're going to do it right and we're going to do it together. That's a big promise that will take a long time to fulfill. One of the great things about Jeff Vinik is he truly wants to do more than play hockey games here. He wants to make this an organization of, by and for the community.''
Reporter Ira Kaufman can be reached at (813) 259-7833.