By all appearances, the three major professional sports teams in the Tampa Bay area have one thing in common: a bright future.
The NFL's Buccaneers just surprised the league with a 10-6 record in 2010 despite playing with the league's youngest roster. The forward-thinking duo of Mark Dominik and Raheem Morris has stocked the team with rising stars, including a franchise quarterback in Josh Freeman.
The NHL's Lightning turned a five-seed in the Eastern Conference into a heady playoff run that fell just one goal short of the Stanley Cup finals. With Steve Yzerman and his championship pedigree in the G.M.'s office and young stars like Steven Stamkos on the ice, the Cup appears to be within reach again.
Despite some significant offseason departures, MLB's Rays, the defending NL East champs, are once again near the top of the game's toughest division. Moreover, the farm system was just restocked in dramatic fashion in the 2011 draft, in which the Rays remarkably held 13 of the first 89 picks.
Such results are the product of ownership that, in each case, is dedicated to winning and has found the right people to help make it happen. Last week, for the first time ever, owners from each of those three teams gathered together in the same room.
The venue was the TPepin Hospitality Centre in Tampa, where the inaugural "Tampa Bay Sneaker Soiree" was staged last Thursday night by the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. The purpose of the Soiree was to celebrate excellence in sports business in the Bay area. A long list of awards was handed out during the evening, including three won by the Buccaneers.
One of the most anticipated portions of the event, however, was a power-packed roundtable discussion that brought Buccaneers Co-Chairman Bryan Glazer, Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik and Rays Principal Owner Stuart Sternberg together for the first time. Sports broadcaster Rock Riley of the Bright House Sports Network provided the moderation, alternating a series of questions to the three willing participants
Riley first noted the Glazer Family Foundation's win in the "Foundation of the Year" category from earlier in the evening and praised GFF for its long-term support of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. Glazer responded by praising the TBSC for their continued impact on the Bay area community, especially as it relates to the growth of youth sports.
"What the Tampa Bay Sports Commission does is bring so many of the major events here, but they also bring some of the youth events," said Glazer. "Our foundation believes that it is important to give back to the community on the younger side. You don't really see the things [the TBSC] does for the younger groups and sports events. I went online today and was looking at the calendar of events going forward and it's just full of stuff. It's just amazing what they do. You don't see it everyday but it brings a lot of sports to the community, brings a lot of economic impact here. These guys do a great job."
Glazer later fielded questions on such topics as the leadership of Dominik and Morris, the team's most recent draft efforts and the September 2010 opening of the Glazer Children's Museum in downtown Tampa.
Twenty-nine months after elevating Dominik and Morris to their current positions, Glazer clearly remains thrilled with the decision. The franchise is seeking to recreate the type of team it built shortly after the Glazer family purchased the Buccaneers in the mid-90s, when a core built through the draft led to a string of five playoff appearances in six years, one that ended with a Super Bowl title.
"When we made the decision to bring them onboard in their roles two years ago, it wasn't like we didn't know them," said Glazer of Dominik and Morris. "We've known Mark and [his wife] Amy for close to 16 years and Raheem for close to 10. They have the same philosophies we did – just from conversations we'd had before that – in terms of how we wanted to build a team going forward.
"When we first bought the team in '95, we built a young team that was made to last, with players that would grow together. We wanted to get back to that. We knew there would be bumps in the road, but these guys were onboard with that, putting together a quality team that would be here and win multiple championships. It wasn't a 'fix-it-each-year' type of situation. Knowing what they were all about, they were the right guys. We had our eyes on them for awhile, and luckily they took the jobs."
Dominik and Morris have focused on building through the draft, as well, and the Bucs' first two drafts with that pair at the helm have proved to be enormous successes. In addition to Freeman, the team has added such cornerstone players as Gerald McCoy, Brian Price, Roy Miller, Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams. Astute post-draft maneuvering has widened the youthful talent base with the likes of LeGarrette Blount and Ted Larsen. The Bucs believe they added even more difference-making talent in the 2011 draft, though Glazer understands that the proof of this will come on the field.
"After the draft, we walked out of the room and we all felt great," he said. "We did the last couple years especially. Then you cross your fingers, because on paper everything looks good but obviously you have to go out there and play well. Mark has had great success finding quality players not just at the top of the draft but at the bottom of the draft. I have full faith that this year's crop will be another piece of the puzzle that will give us that long-lasting winning team."
The Bay area's professional sports teams also strive to impact the community around them in a positive manner, as well, and the Glazer Family Foundation is at the leading edge of those efforts. First established in 1999, the Foundation has developed a long list of programs to improve lives in the Bay area, with a special emphasis on children. The Foundation and the Glazer family had one of their proudest moments yet, however, when the Glazer Children's museum opened its doors last summer. A signature donation of $5 million by the Glazer Family Foundation kick-started the project several years ago.
"I have five brothers and sisters and 14 nieces and nephews," said Glazer. "I know from my brothers and sisters that when they would travel around the country and go to other cities that had world-class children's museums, they would ask where the museum was and they would spend time there. The Tampa Bay area was missing that piece. Before there was Kid City here and they were talking about building a new museum. People had mentioned it to us and we knew we wanted to get involved. It turned out to be fantastic. The numbers are telling us that it has far exceeded our expectations. It's not only the museum downtown but the art museum, Curtis Hixon park…it's really made the whole downtown area a lot better than it used to be. It's really become an area where people come downtown to hang out."
Glazer is understandably proud of the new museum, and surely of the direction his Buccaneers are now headed in. That's a pride that fans throughout the community can share in all of their teams in this most promising of times in Bay area sports.