Lightning and Bucs: A Tale of Two Teams

Call it the tale of two teams.

Once the very definition of ineptitude, the Buccaneers have been good for a while and now there are none better. Once the very essence of awful, the Lightning have been good for a season and now have earned credibility with a playoff run.

The Bucs, who played hardball to legally extort a cushy stadium deal, are making money hand over Glazer fist. Thousands are on waiting lists for season tickets and Pewter Partners keep queuing up. The team, playing and winning in the best facility in the country, is worth more than three times what the Glazers paid for it.

Moreover, the Bucs are part of the National Football League, a blatant exception to the typical tenets of the free enterprise system. Other than the NFL, where can you find somebody else to train your personnel and build your place of business and then be assured of making a profit — irrespective of product quality — by dividing up an obscenely large pool of network television cash? And all teams are limited in what they can spend by an overhead governor — a league-wide salary cap. Hey, is this a great subset of capitalism or what?

The Lightning, however, continue to hemorrhage dollars. As an organization, it is a light year removed from the Duke of Manchester and female-goalie days. But the Bolts still play in the National Hockey League, which rakes in relative chump change in its TV deals. As a result, almost no one makes a profit. The Lightning aren’t yet close. In fact, the team owner, Palace Sports & Entertainment, claims to have lost more than $30 million on its hockey and arena operations for the fiscal year ending last June. This year will obviously be better, but that only means less loss.

As reigning Super Bowl champs, the Bucs have been wined, dined, feted and fawned over. Ostensibly, it doesn’t get any better. The days of the Glazers being called greedy carpetbaggers playing franchise roulette with the city and its taxpayers are history. For all their fumbling, the Glazers made a sound business decision and shelled out $8 million for Jon Gruden. A Super Bowl season and a parade later, all was forgiven.

Until the Glazers decided to reprise revenge of the rich nerds.

Maybe it’s like the scorpion that couldn’t help stinging the duck upon whose back it was depending for passage across a river. Or like some politicians who can’t help going negative. Or a Soprano in schlep’s clothing: “Nothing personal, just business.”

It’s their nature.

This recent flap over not signing off on the transfer of Raymond James Stadium ownership to the county is vintage Glazer. The Bucs say they won’t sign until the Tampa Sports Authority ponies up for extra costs on insurance and security that weren’t foreseen in the original, munificent, 1996 lease agreement.

The Bucs aren’t necessarily wrong in their legal take, but they are unnecessarily insistent that this was worth drawing “a line in the sand” during challenging economic times for local governments. Taking one for Team Tampa is apparently not an option, because it’s not good business. Good will and good PR aren’t incentive enough.

The Glazers, it appeared, had it all a couple of months ago. As it turned out, they never got it at all. Some things money can’t buy.

Meanwhile at the erstwhile Ice Palace, signs were manifest recently that the Bolts are getting it on the ice. Before their loudest and largest Tampa crowd ever — more than 21,000 — the Bolts defeated the favored Washington Capitals, 2-1, in game five of their East quarterfinal series.

Especially noteworthy was that the Bolts passed the O’Neill litmus test. That raucous crowd included this normally detached fan and his yoga-instructor spouse, who wouldn’t know a poke check from a pork chop.

But guess who was yelling for an “icing” call against the Caps by game’s end? Guess who also took the percussive brunt of a pair of “ThunderStix” that all fans were armed with? Guess who will also take a couple more upside the head after this column?

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