Posted by: Cameron O’Connell on Monday, April 26, 2021

Written by Cameron O’Connell, ZooTampa

The Leadership Tampa Class of 2021 had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Champa Bay in-depth via a tremendous agenda organized by Travis Pelleymounter & Sheri Anderson (Vinik Sports Group),with the Sports Day being sponsored by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning & Tampa Bay Rays.

Champa Bay & the Golden Heroes ‘run on Dunkin’, so we were treated to breakfast & coffee before loading on the buses for the trip across the bridge to Al Lang Stadium.

We arrived at Al Lang Stadium built in 1947 (refurbished to soccer-specific in 2011) with a beautiful backdrop of the St. Pete waterfront. We heard from Lee Cohen (President) & Neill Collins (Head Coach) on the rich history & current success of the Tampa Bay Rowdies organization. Of note, the Tampa Bay Rays acquired the team in 2018, and they have adopted a similar strategy with payroll management influencing roster decisions. As well, their current head coach was a Tampa Bay Rowdies player prior to converting to the coaching ranks, and he had to bench his roommate his 1st year in that capacity. Recently, the organization hired a mental performance coach, as they place a significant emphasis on that aspect of the game. It was also interesting to see the Team was implementing outdoor locker rooms on the concourse, due to the pandemic.

Next, we had the opportunity to engage with Brian Auld (President) with the Tampa Bay Rays. He mentioned the goal of energizing the Tampa Bay Community via Rays Baseball & Rowdies Soccer given the recent acquisition. A unique example of this strategy was adding the brother of Randy Arozarena (Raiko) to the Rowdies roster to create connectivity between the 2 organizations. We also heard about the continued efforts to ‘sell’ the sister city concept with Montreal to our Community with Ybor City representing the most viable site to build a new intimate stadium. The justification for this proposed plan is the need to draw 30,000 fans per night to compete financially with baseball organizations in other markets, which is not feasible in Tampa based on their experience. To wrap up the morning, we were treated to a VIP shopping experience at the Tropicana Field Team Store in time for the Home Opener.

We headed back across the bay to join Ben Milsom (Chief Ticketing Officer) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for lunch. He shared his personal career journey starting with the Tampa Bay Lightning, before eventually coming back to Tampa to join the Bucs. The best soundbite from his presentation was when he shared he had told a Ticketmaster representative to ‘build a bigger pipe’ to meet the demand for tickets upon announcing the Tom Brady signing. It was also great to hear the influence that Bruce Arians continues to have on the organization via the example he is setting with his diverse coaching staff.

After lunch, we had the chance to connect with Claire Lessinger (Vice President of Events) with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission & Eric Hart (President/CEO) with the Tampa Sports Authority. We learned about the depth & variety of sporting events that the TBSC is working to draw to our Community, along with the significant outcomes & success of the Super Bowl Host Committee. There was excitement about the upcoming Wrestlemania event, along with continued efforts to increase capacity at area venues in a safe, effective manner in conjunction with local/state government

From there, Ron Christaldi (Partner) with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick talked to us about his involvement with Tampa Bay Rays 2020. It was impressive to hear about the grassroots effort to identify & create solutions for the stadium issue. They had garnered tremendous community support, including raising significant new guaranteed revenue for the Team. Hopefully, their efforts will assist in securing the Tampa Bay Rays long-term future in our Community.

We were then treated to an Amalie Arena Tour, including a rare photo opportunity with the Tampa Bay Lightning Organ. The surprise of the day was the appearance by the Lombardi Trophy on the concourse, which allowed our Leadership Tampa class the opportunity to take individual & group photos.

Our host with Vinik Sports Group, Steve Griggs (CEO) then talked us thru the efforts that the Tampa Bay Lightning took during the pandemic to continue impacting the Community thru VSG Cares & VSG Connect, while continuing the Community Hero program throughout the run to the Stanley Cup. We also learned about the successful marketing campaigns that were deployed during the past year, including Distant Thunder & Bud Lightning!

Our last session of the day was a panel with Dr. Michelle Harrolle, Dr. Janelle Wells (USF) & Teresa Resch (VP, Basketball Operations) with the Toronto Raptors. We learned more about the inequalities for women in sports at all levels of sport. We were also challenged to consider women for leadership positions in all organizations in non-traditional roles. In all cases, these speakers were able to turn their passion for sport via their athletic backgrounds into successful careers.

We were then treated to one last surprise, when we were invited onto the Raptors court to take a free throw & group photo. From there, we visited the Team Store for a VIP shopping experience, before enjoying the Cigar City Taproom to end the day.