TAMPA (FOX 13) - The Bolts weren't just playing for a win on the ice Wednesday night. They were also competing for a major sports award in New York City.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the only NHL team nominated for the Sports Business Awards "Sports Team of the Year Award" by SportsBusiness Journal. The team was up against the Carolina Panthers, Golden State Warriors, Kansas City Royals and Portland Timbers.
Though the award went to the Warriors, it's still a big honor for Tampa's home team.
All those tickets sold, seats filled and goals scored have made the Lightning one of the best on the ice. When you look at a business of the Bolts, they're at the top. Think of this award as the Stanley Cup of the sports biz.
"Everybody is a Lightning fan right now and it's really exciting for us," said Bill Wickett, Lightning Executive Vice President of Communications. "It's a validation of all the work we've done to transform the franchise over time here."
The franchise now has nearly 14,000 season ticket holders, including 3,500 new members this season. Every game has been a sell-out, with the Lightning Foundation making sure millions are going back to local nonprofits.
"It's the experience our fans have when they come to the game, it's the game presentation we do, it's obviously the team's performance on the ice. Mr. Vinik's work in the community is enormous and immense," Wickett said.
In 2015, the Lightning were ranked the number one overall team in the NHL and first in fan experience by ESPN Ultimate Sports Rankings. Forbes also ranked them number one in the NHL in year-over-year franchise value gain.
Despite so many top rankings, the team still has the third most affordable tickets in the NHL.
"What Vinik has done is nothing short of amazing, in that he took a team nobody cared about and made it the premiere team in the marketplace," said USF Director of Sport and Entertainment Management Bill Sutton.
Sutton said this award, and even just the nomination, shows there's a right and wrong way of doing things. It shows the Lightning and Owner Jeff Vinik are definitely right.
"His philanthropy is second to none," Sutton said. "Giving away $50,000 at every Lightning game to a different nonprofit. That says, I think this place is important. It's not just about hockey, it's about the people."
Lightning CEO Steve Griggs had to miss Wednesday night's home game so he could be in New York City for the awards ceremony. It's a worthwhile trip for a chance to bring home yet another win for the team.