For the third straight year, the Tampa Bay Lightning organization has been placed in the top 10 of ESPN’s Ultimate Team Rankings. This year, the Lightning took the top spot overall on the list.
In its 14-year history, the Ultimate Team Rankings list, published by ESPN the Magazine, has never ranked the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise number one overall. Until now. Though the team has placed within the top 10 a few times, included a third place finish last year, this is a special honor for an organization that has worked so hard to get to where it is now.
Some of the criteria used to rank all 122 professional franchises in the four professional sports leagues include recent team success, ticket pricing, arena facilities, fan relations, and ownership.
This year, the Tampa Bay Lightning finished higher over other successful and well-respected organizations like the San Antonio Spurs, Green Bay Packers, and Denver Broncos; however, that’s just speculation, since the final list for 2016 will be released later this week (compared to rankings in years past).
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Much of the success of the Lightning can be attributed to the team’s owner, Jeff Vinik, who purchased the franchise back in 2010, and the large personal investment that he has put into the organization as a whole. Vinik has poured his own money into the renovation of team’s home arena and into several philanthropic efforts around the Tampa Bay Area.
Vinik has poured his own money into the renovation of team’s home arena and into several philanthropic efforts around the Tampa Bay Area.
Most notably, he and his wife Penny created the Lightning Community Heroes Program in 2011 in order to recognize those in the local community who generously help and support others.
Initially, they pledged to distribute $10 million over a five-year span, and while the Vinik Family Foundation has already awarded funds to over 220 heroes, each of which receives a $50,000 check to donate to a charity of his or her choice, the Viniks decided to continue this program and pledged to donate another $10 million over the same amount of time, including Stanley Cup Playoff games.
It’s an understatement to say that Vinik has done so much for this franchise and region as a whole. The renovations to Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa alone has lifted the organization to new heights, and with his “all in” mentality in giving General Manager and Vice President, Steve Yzerman, enough money to spend on improving the team on the ice, it should be no surprise the Lightning is ranked this high.
And on the management and on-ice side of things, Yzerman has done wonders in building one of the top teams in the NHL and what he did this past off-season is just one example of his mastery in the front office.
The players that he’s brought in and re-signed over the years have helped to thrust this once lowly franchise to the top of the league standings and gain respect from others around the sports world.
After these rankings were released on Saturday, Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President of Communications, Bill Wickett, commented on where the franchise placed, saying, “When Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010, his No. 1 goal was to make this a world-class franchise (and) to serve our fans as well as we possibly could. We feel that the ESPN Ultimate Standings are validation of that.”
Another important point to note from this year’s ranking is the team’s success with drawing thousands of fans (more than 11,000 last month) to the annual Fan Fest event held at the downtown arena.
ESPN the Magazine praised the organization for this and more, and if the team on the ice continues to have success for years to come, the number of people attending Fan Fest and each home game should continue to grow.
This past Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced its 69th consecutive sellout at home, which just shows the dedication and passion the fans in Tampa Bay have for this team.
In comparison to the other professional teams in the area, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished 73rd overall and the Tampa Bay Rays finished in the 90th spot on the list, well below where the Lightning was placed.
To no surprise, the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise was ranked number one overall on ESPN the Magazine’s Ultimate Team Rankings list this year, and over the past few years, this organization has been dedicated to providing the best experience for its fans, the best product on the ice, and the utmost commitment to the local community and those who call it home every day.
After years of inconsistent and poor ownership accompanied by mediocrity on the ice, the Tampa Bay Lightning have finally become the pride of Tampa Bay.