LAKEWOOD RANCH -- At 52, Tod Leiweke is one of the most successful sports executives in the world. The chief executive officer of Tampa Bay Sports Entertainment, which includes the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League and the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Leiweke has worked in professional sports for 29 years.
His resume includes working with the Seattle Seahawks, the PGA Tour, NHL's Minnesota Wild and the NBA's Golden State Warriors and Portland Trailblazers. In 2009, he was named CEO of the Year by the Puget Sound Business Journal and CEO of the Year by the Seattle Sports Commission. That year, he also was named a finalist by Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal as the 2009 Sports Executive of Year.
On Wednesday, Leiweke was a guest speaker during the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance breakfast at the Lakewood Ranch Golf & Country Club. He talked to the group about the Tampa Bay Lightning and its future and had a few moments to chat with the Bradenton Herald.
Where did your passion for hockey begin?
I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and as a kid I got on a pair of skates and I remember skating in the old arena there. I only did it once, but I never forgot it. I grew up in a family that loves sports and I just took an affection to hockey. No matter where I've been, even when I was CEO of the Seahawks, I would play in a beer league on Sunday nights.
How do you build a likeable sports brand?
It's a thousand bricks, it isn't any one thing. First, you have to love your fans and you have to do that unconditionally. We knew there was a fan base here and I'm surprised at the depth of it. You build a fan base by committing to serve. There are fans here and they're passionate, so therefore it is easy to serve them.
Why is it so important for the organization to give back to the community?
That's how I've done my business and that's one of the things that really attracted me to owner Jeff Vinik. That wasn't a philosophy I had to articulate to him, it was one that already lived within him and within his heart.
You've worked with so many sports teams at different positions. How do you create a winning atmosphere?
It's like you do with any company, you have to make sure the players are proud to pull the jersey on, you want to fill the building with your fans and I think we're on the road to doing that here. It's not easy, its a brick by brick kind of strategy, but I think the fact that a kid like (recently signed college free agent) J.T. Brown chooses the Lightning over all those other teams is a strong indication that we're on the right track.
What do you think the future is of the fans' interaction with their city franchise?
It's only growing. Social media is really changing where we're reaching so many people on a regular basis now. We're reaching them through the conventional mediums but also through Facebook and Twitter and all those. We're not only doing it, but our players are doing it. We had a couple of guys who were traveling through Europe last year and they kept a big part of our fan base appraised of daily activities as they traveled through England and Ireland.
Nick Williams, East Manatee Reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411 ext. 7049. Follow him on Twitter at @_1NickWilliams.