Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Graphs don't lie. But in reality, this is pretty interesting. The damn Lightning couldn't get anyone to go to their games back in '99, so naturally, you bribe them with beer, nachos, and other delectable treats. Awesome.
As part of the sales team of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999, then-fledgling executives Chad Estis and Brent Stehlik were part of the unit tasked with what they both called the "hardest job in sports."
Tampa Bay was the worst team in NHL history. It was in the midst of four straight 50-loss seasons, becoming the first team in league history to ever do so. In 1997 Forbes magazine ranked it as the worst professional sports franchise economically, reporting the team had accrued a debt equal to an astounding 236 percent of its value.
"We were a last-place hockey team, and a historically bad last-place team at that, in a warm-weather market," Estis said. "Straight up, selling a Lightning season ticket was almost impossible to do at the time. So we would brainstorm ways to have a better opportunity to sell season tickets."
Estis' solution was what would evolve into today's all-you-can-eat options. He helped create a high-end, all-inclusive club in one of the underutilized end zones of the St. Pete Times Forum, then known as the Ice Palace. A huge risk, the renovation to the arena and building of the club cost what Stehlik said was more than $1 million.
Estis, Stehlik and the Lightning's sales team sold the XO Club as a different way to take in a hockey game. Everything was included in the package, even alcohol. The club was catered to corporate clients and large company groups. It was a model -- the all-inclusive experience -- that was fairly common in the service industry but foreign to the sports industry. Estis said the franchise sold out the majority of the club: 500 buyers purchased season tickets.Who wants to bet Estis and Stehlik are pretty big boys? Either way; apparently MLB teams are trying to get folks into their over-sized stadiums with all-you-can-eat offerings. Way to go Tampa, look what you started. Now I bet you'll want to make the playoffs or something equally ridiculous.