Rays, Lightning and sports commission leaders discuss the future of stadiums and the industry in Tampa Bay

By Veronica Brezina-Smith – Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal

TAMPA (October 30, 2018) – The heat is on in Tampa Bay as local sports teams are competing with other destinations to have the top fan experiences and take advantage of prime real estate developments. Leaders from the Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning and others spoke on enhancements to the area’s sports venues and what they are betting on in the bay during the Tampa Downtown Partnership’s “Downtown Debriefing: Stepping Up Our Game” event held at Amalie Arena on Tuesday morning. Here’s what they had to say:


Steve Griggs, CEO, Tampa Bay Lightning, on how the fan experience model has changed: It goes back 2010 when I arrived here, the brand was irrelevant, it didn’t connect with the fans, we weren’t attracting new fans and we looked at it as two points of view – the guest experience and the game experience. Both took time and money. From a game experience, a lot went into our $5 million scoreboard, the way we honored the game, authentic versus loud music and commercials. Really it made it a traditional experience. When we talk about the fan experience, we spent $100 million to transform this building with products and services and we focused on how we treat guests. Jeff Vinik always talked about being world-class with our ushers and ticket takers.

On the arena’s strategy: Last year was our most successful as far as events. Two million people came through this building. We are the 11th largest market in North America. Three years ago, we started going to New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, and really working those relationships to tell how great this market is. People come here or Orlando.

On how Water Street will impact the arena: The vision 20 years ago here was the convention center, the area, the port, aquarium, you have the history center, all the attractors, and we had people coming and leaving. Now we’ll have people living here, staying here, playing and working here.


Brian Auld, president, Tampa Bay Rays, on plans for Tropicana field: We are working on a number of ideas for next season, none of which I’m prepared to unveil today.

On the strategy for the Rays purchasing Rowdies: It’s a great brand, it’s nearby. We are looking forward to getting access to the data from the soccer player GPS units, tracking all the games. Some sports scientists are excited to see what that data tells us. … To have two great sports teams in the same area is something that we think is going to be helpful for us. We sell thousands of tickets so we are looking forward to using those contacts.

On what it means to get national exposure from the team’s success this year: We aren’t looking for attention. In fact, other teams seem to be stealing our ideas. The attention really is great; it also creates copycats. We continue to fight that battle; we have to win games in different ways the Yankees and Red Sox do because they are going to have more resources.


Mike Griffin, ambassador, Rays 2020, on notes he took during a trip to Toronto in looking at inspiration for creating a new Ybor ballpark: It was interesting to learn in Toronto about the SkyDome, now Rogers Centre, the first new stadium/ballpark that went into a downtown area. You look at where they put that, from the urban core of Toronto to the lakeside and the ballpark – SkyDome is really that catalyst to make that happen [spur real estate developments, transit, success]. You’re seeing that here and all the work that it has taken to build our urban downtown core, it’s taken a long time. It’s absolutely fascinating to look at where we are sitting with the Water Street development, Morsani Heart Institute, Channelside, Sparkman Wharf, Port Tampa Bay and this amazing development of Ybor City. You’re seeing this expansion of our urban core in a decade. When you think of the expansion of our urban core, economic opportunities, and live/work/play models it’s exciting, but the missing piece goes back to transportation. I think it’s great the governor and FDOT gave us a grant for the streetcar to be free, but we all know that’s not a primary mode of transportation. My hope is that the referendum that is out there, I’m speaking for myself, I think it’s important for voters to be educated.

On transportation for the ballpark: There will be lot of ways to get there that doesn’t involve a vehicle, potentially. Right now there are parking garages that Tampa has and we will utilize the streetcar, and beyond that we are right by the water. I would love to see greater access of our water. The fact that you can jump on a water taxi, take a boat to the game and never step foot in a car opens up more opportunities.


Rob Higgins, executive director, Tampa Bay Sports Commission, on youth and amateur sports: The market is an each and every weekend type of driver for our tourism and hospitality industry. Each year we bid on 100 to 120 events, most youth and amateur. Traditionally, those generate about 150,000 visitor room nights and you have thousands of hospitality workers. That’s a huge focus. We are producing bids on almost a daily basis.

On new events for Tampa Bay: We need to focus on the events we have. Just two weeks ago we had a chance to host the U.S. Men’s National team versus Colombia team. We ended up having more than 38,600 people there, which is 7,000 more than we ever had. With the Women’s Final Four, we have to make sure that goes well for future opportunities and finding ways for our fifth Super Bowl leading to our sixth. We certainly have our eyes on hosting an outdoor game similar to how we hosted the NHL All-Star. I think that’s what our community has got to do, look for these non-traditional opportunities.