LAKEWOOD RANCH - Fans who go see the Tampa Bay Lightning will watch the action on the ice, but it will be hard for their eyes to miss an ad for Lakewood Ranch on the boards that surround the rink. The master-planned community east of I-75 hopes that a partnership with the pro hockey team will help bring home buyers and businesses.
“There's a lot we can do for Lakewood Ranch,” says Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke.
With its polo club and its sports complex, Lakewood Ranch already uses sports to market itself. “This is another arrow in the quiver,” says Rex Jensen, President of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.
The marketing agreement with the team announced today is not Lakewood Ranch's first foray into hockey. A minor league team called the Gulf Coast Swords planned to play games in an arena across the street from Lakewood Ranch High School. Construction that began in 2005 never finished. The team never played a game, and the half-empty shell of a building met the wrecking ball in 2009.
While something like that could come later, right now they focus on the National Hockey League team in Tampa, trying to get snowbirds who watch games to come see Lakewood Ranch. “We have hundreds of thousands of people who come from elsewhere to see our games,” says Leiweke. “We're going to tell the Lakewood Ranch story. But, conversely, Lakewood Ranch helps us plant a flag in the county just south of ours.”
The Lightning wants to reach potential fans less than an hour south, and to spread the word that the team that lost more than a third of its season to a labor dispute with its players has come back. To a marketing event, the team brought its general manager, and hockey hall of fame player, Steve Yzerman. “It's an opportunity to put the lockout behind us and make some goodwill and have some positive things,” Yzerman says of the partnership.
The team and the community will give the unusual arrangement three years, and see how it works.