John Franzone – VP Tampa Lightning (Page 3)

Interview with Tampa Bay Lightning’s John Franzone. John talks about staying on brand with your show, cowbells and much more.

Cudo: Let’s look down the farm, if you will, the Syracuse Crunch are one of your affiliates. They have a cool promotion I thought where they took their traditional post game skate and they’ve added it and they have a Rock ‘n’ Skate where they bring in a local DJ.

I think what was interesting to me is that they clearly targeted this more towards older people and I think post-game skates, I usually think of being very kid friendly but hockey games end at 10:30. I thought there was a great twist on that, so do have any thoughts on what they’re doing there?

Fairbanks Ice Dogs spend time on the Fort Wainwright ice

Franzone: We keep base with them because we do one of our in-game features is an AHL update where we’ll spotlight our prospects maybe once a week and I think that’s a wise strategy. We aim a little more on our end for what we call millennial market. We have and toward that end we’re not able to do the post-game skate here but we base our owner and its part of the $60 million renovation he privately financed and didn’t ask the county for a cent.

One of the things we put up there was this Bud Light Party Deck and we took a tar roof and we made it an 18,000 ft.² post-game destination with discounted beers and drinks that overlooks downtown and the weather is beautiful. It’s the place to be and to hang out after a game.

But clearly it’s targeted at a certain market that’s single and generally speaking younger looking to have some fun after the game.

So the strategy is kind of the same and I think shooting for that window or fan base at 18 or 34 magic number where you’re going to build a fan and maybe a generation of fans is a smart strategy. So if that post-game skate is one of those in your mindset and if that’s going to allow you to reach that goal, then more power to you.

Cudo: I looked at your schedule as well for a couple of different things and a couple promotions popped up to me and I wanted to see if you can comment on. Vinny Appreciation Night, can you tell me what that is?

Franzone: Vinny. My cousin, Vinny. You know the lawyer. [laughs] No, this season we had to make, and I can’t speak for hockey ops because I don’t even pretend, they will forgetin one day more than I’ll ever know about how to run hockey team. But I’ll tell you this, having been here in Tampa Bay throughout Vinny Lecavalier’s entire tenure with the Lightning and he came here in 1998  and I was with the Rays as I said earlier at the time. And they had to make a decision this year in terms of cap space and Vinny had a big contract and they opted to buy him out of a contract.

It wasn’t an easy decision because the fan base here had become attached to Vinny and almost not so much for what he had done on the ice for the Stanley Cup in 04′, “Rocket” Richard Trophy in 2006-07, but more so for what he did for the community. He adopted his own pediatric cancer wing at All Children’s Hospital locally and was committed to them and still is.

So he was noted here and is still noted here for what it meant to the community as much of success he had on the ice and how he represented at the lightning as an All-Star and so forth. (He now plays for the Philadelphia Flyers). So when the Flyers visit here it makes sense to salute Vinny for what he meant to the community almost as much as what he meant to the team.

I don’t know if you noticed but one of our owner’s initiatives, one of Mr. Vinick’s  signature touches to what his ownership has brought to the table is what we call our Lightning Community Hero Award.  (Note: see background of his community work in the video, this is not the in-game video)

Believe it or not every game for the last two years we take the entire second TV timeout or the first period and we salute a local hero.  Someone who has flown under the radar and has been dedicated to whatever charity cause, non-profit and people nominate this person.  They are given on the spot $50,000 in their name to donate to charity of their choice. So this initiative goes on for the next three years and so it’s basically $10 million donated for the next five years.

We stop the game and we run a very elegantly produced video and it tells the story and we transition to our hero in the suite  with their presenter and their jersey and it’s a standing ovation every night because it kind of puts sort of life and the game in perspective. Again that’s kind of what I talked about earlier; it sort of elevates the pride in your community.

Cudo: I’m sorry to jump in. This is every game or once a year?

Franzone: Every game.

Cudo: Wow!

Franzone: So in fact I’m typing up the script here for tomorrow night’s game and I just realized that since I keep update up on the LED boards. I think we’ve donated $4,450,000 to date, so we’re sort halfway $10 million.

That’s a long way of saying that when Vinny comes here in a couple of weeks, Vinny is going to be our community hero for what he’s done. And I’m sure there will be other collectible that goes along with it and we’ll have in a music video tribute too when a player is welcomed back and he’s wearing a different sweater.

You’ve seen it a bunch of times, but that would be kind of signature because that really there’s two folks in Tampa Bay, I think will always be remembered for what they did more so off the field than what they on ice.

One is Tony Dungy, the coach who when he left the Bucs it wasn’t about him not wearing of Bucs flag anymore, it was about him and what he left behind from a legacy standpoint and Vinny falls into that same category.

That will kind of be the spirit of the night.

Cudo: Then you have an Olympics sendoff night and I’m sure a lot of NHL teams are doing this. Do you want to give a summary of that?

Franzone: I will as soon as I get through Military Appreciation, November 30th.  These are like dominoes and it’s like once you put so much work into one and then the next one.

Military Salute at Tampa Bay Times Forum

Cudo: I’ll jump ahead then.

At the end of the season you have four nights in a row, one is the Kids Appreciation Night and then you have three Fan App Nights, which I thought was an interesting twist on kind of the old standby where obviously honor your fans but you’re doing it for three games.

Can you talk about that decision?

Franzone: Yeah. One night may not be enough and we’re fortunate right now and our tickets are in strong demand and have been for the last 2-3 years. And if you can’t get a ticket to Fan Appreciation Day then we’d have to sort of spread the love around. So it kind of works out very nicely that the games sort of fall back-to-back-to-back there and three games in four days and the last game is capped with the players on the red carpet as they enter and get autographs there and then at the end of the game they’ll do the jerseys off our back at the end of the game. We’ll be taking the winners over the course of the three days.

So it’s kind of like a three day way to say thank you to the fans with lots of giveaways and lots of other special things for the season give members and so forth.

It’s something we’ve done, I’d say the last three to five years but this would be the first year where we’d I think probably take it as you say the four days before the opus, experiential things like I guess sitting with the PA, shooting on the ice after the game, pushing our Tesla button which shoots the lightning bolts in the bowl which still mystifies me every time we do it. I catch myself like a deer in headlights when those things go off.  All the sitting in the radio booth with our announcers during the period, all these different things that behind-the-scenes experiences will be part of the mix too as well as your giveaways.

So it’s fun to say to say thank you and to keep repeating it.

Cudo: Well, I saw another promotion from the Colorado Eagles that sparked my attention in regards to you on Friday, November 22nd. They have Gold Cowbell night and I know you have some experience for that cowbell night. Do you want to give any tips too for the folks in Colorado?

Franzone: Well, there’s two ways to go about it.  You just do it because you invariably must be running a certain clip from a certain well-known TV show where cowbell plays a central role. But I don’t want to get into legalities after that.

It’s funny, with the Rays, and that was another organic thing and when I was there, the owner, Mr. Stu Sternberg mentioned that I was his favorite and loves that clip, ‘We’ve got to get that into the game.’

We tried playing it and it wasn’t soon after that, it wound up in the paper, hey, they’re doing this thing and then it wasn’t soon after that you get a phone call.

We decided at the Rays that we’ll cease, we will desist and we’ll just build it ourselves and we did and it’s still going strong today. So if you can build it organically and make it your own where you don’t have to rely on clips and maybe you reenact a few things and get clever with it because everybody is seeing the clip then I think you’ve got a recipe for success otherwise it’s just freaking annoying.

Do you hear that thing in the back of your head?

Cudo: I do remember I was at Cowbell Night and that’s why I thought of that.   (See what Franzone did with Cowbell Night at the Tampa Bay Rays)

Franzone: Yeah, that’s right. That was our first juncture. Wasn’t it… Holy Moly?

Cudo: And as you remember at one point somebody in the press box just leaned over and just said, ‘This is so damn loud’ How annoying it was? And he couldn’t get over it.”

Franzone: Yeah, but I was grinning ear to ear because we helped put it together. So your perspective changes but with that night what I just think or remember us doing is creating a lot of visual cues that we ran up on to answer every board. So it wasn’t just the big board with some knucklehead thing with cowbell there, but it was in the prompts with the more cowbell stuff that you didn’t have to rely on the movie clip and the other way is to entice people to bang this thing.

It’s funny a couple of years later we had a creative video and I think they still run it, although may be remade with the new logo, but we had to create a cowbell courtesy video of when and where to ring it: when the better has two strikes and when the race at a home run. It was all these do’s and don’ts for cowbell etiquette and that’s what we call the cowbell etiquette.

We did like it was a 1950s info film, the kind of thing you would see science fares, ‘Tell me more about it, Jimmy.‘ So it worked out really well and there was a funny way to do it and engage people and still communicate like, ‘Dude, don’t put anything in my ear.’

Next John Franzone talks Star Wars Night and Ugly Sweater Parties… 

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