Of course, so much yet remains to be seen — and played out — as a result of the agreement by Palace Sports & Entertainment to sell the Tampa Bay Lightning for a reported $200 million. But on the surface, this looks like a winner. Herewith, the top five reasons to wax optimistic about Absolute Hockey Enterprises, the new (pending NHL Board of Governors’ approval) Tampa Bay Lightning owners:
1) They’ll be local. The key decision-makers, majority partners Doug MacLean, a former NHL executive and coach, and Coral Springs developer Jeff Sherrin, will move here. That’s a commitment the Bolts have never come close to experiencing before. An absentee owner, even an absentee billionaire owner, is never preferable. Plus MacLean is a bonafide “hockey guy.”
General Manager Jay Feaster will only have to amble over to a nearby suite to see the boss. No more intermediaries and no more hat-in-hand treks to Detroit for an audience with 84-year-old owner William Davidson.
MacLean, Sherrin and marketing maven Oren Koules have said all the right, impassioned things so far. Not even a hint of equivocation about keeping the team here. Chances of moving the team, underscored MacLean several times, are “zero.”
2) It’s a vote of confidence in downtown-Channel District synergy and the unrealized potential of 5.5 acres of prime real estate adjacent to the St. Pete Times Forum, which was part of the deal. To be sure, this isn’t Columbus, Ohio, where MacLean, 53, had been president and general manager of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.
3) Koules is a big picture marketing guy. Actually, a highly successful Hollywood producer, including the gratuitously gory “Saw” series. But fresh blood, so to speak, should realize untapped marketing opportunities here. Tampa Bay may still be considered “small market” in pro sports parlance, but this is the country’s 12 largest TV market.
Hockey is artistry on skates as well as a violent collision sport. That’s hardly without appeal, to which the Bolts’ 19,877 average attendance (third in the league) attests. And Tampa Bay’s best players would already be matinee idols in the other major sports. Moreover, hockey is not a rap sheet sport. We’ll leave it at that.
Look for sponsorship enhancements. In addition, naming rights for one of the most successful indoor venues in the country is up for grabs with new ownership. The Absolute Vodka Arena?
4) These guys were competent enough to keep this purchase – through a 7-week gestation period – secret. In two countries. Presidential administrations should be this leak-proof competent.
5) MacLean, the “hockey guy,” owes us one. Big time.
Think what it was that was most glaringly missing last year from a good Lightning team that could have done much better than merely make the playoffs. It was shy a reliable goalie and a goal-scoring forward to play on Brad Richards’ line. Think disappointing Marc Denis and 30-goal scorer Freddy Modin. The Bolts gave up Modin to get Denis. From Columbus. A net minus that still smarts.