Tampa Bay Lightning: The Master of Experience Marketing



Things are used, replaced, and then forgotten. Experiences remain in the mind for a lifetime.

We, AMA members, market brands, products, and services and we are experts at it…but many of us could improve if we incorporate experiences into our marketing arsenal. If we design experiences for our customers (beyond the commonly recognized touch points), our brands can remain in our customers’ minds even after our products are used and our services end. As a result…well, a happy customer is a returning customer.

Using experience marketing definitely requires creativity in many industries, and in some, it may be considered a novel idea. In sports, however, experience marketing is standard operating procedure and Eric Blankenship, Vice President of Marketing for Tampa Bay Lightning, is an expert at it. Blankenship offered unique insight into how the Tampa Bay Lightning brand uses experiences to market the team. Much of his is directly applicable to product and service marketing. Some of you may be thinking that experience marketing is easy when the product in question is an actual experience (a hockey game) and the team is a winning team. The hockey games, however, are not the topic of discussion. The focus here is on the experiences surrounding the games.

Pay Attention to the Whole Customer Experience

According to Blankenship, “the actual hockey game is only one part of the total customer experience.” The experience actually starts the minute a fan searches for tickets online and does not end until that fan drives out of the parking lot after the game. Blankenship stressed, “Marketers in all industries should design and perfect the customer experience from beginning to end.” Despite the team’s winning record, he assures that Lightning games would not enjoy their current level of popularity if the Lightning failed to focus on the whole customer experience.

Blankenship explained that, for the Lightning, fan experiences include the ease of finding and purchasing tickets, the ease of parking, the customers’ experience walking from parking spaces to the arena, entering the arena, and finding seats. He continued to explain that other experiences include visiting the restroom, finding food and drinks, the quality of the food and drinks, entertainment inside the arena (aside from the game), ease of exiting the arena, walking back to the car, and driving out of the parking area. Each of these experiences is meticulously designed to please the customer and to minimize the amount of stress, aggravation, and confusion that can come hand in hand with attending a large event with thousands of fans.

Key Takeaways

Blankenship’s explanation of the Lightning’s marketing philosophy proves that designing customer experiences is as much a marketing job as it is a customer service job. Many companies fail to treat it as such, but they should because positive experiences market the brand and convince customers to return. Historically, companies that pay attention to this fact reap astronomical benefits. This is not just the case in experience marketing; it also happens in product marketing. Take McDonald’s as an example. McDonald’s sells food and drinks. However, the company’s popularity among fast food patrons, especially in earlier years, was largely due to the cleanliness of its restrooms. Why? Restroom cleanliness actually differentiated McDonald’s from its competitors more than the food did; road travelers stopping to use the restroom and eat would stop at the place with the clean restrooms. As marketers, we must remember that our products and services are only a small part of what differentiates our brand.

Your Competitors are not Just Companies

Blankenship explained that, when marketing a Lightning game, the marketer does not just compete with football games or baseball games that may be happening in the Tampa Bay Area. The Lightning games compete with movies, festivals, concerts, and any other experiences that a customer may choose to purchase instead of purchasing tickets to a Lightning game. Blankenship noted that the Lightning games also have to compete with the desire to stay home and do nothing instead of attending a game.

Key Takeaways

As marketers, we must remember that our products and services not only compete with similar ones, but they also compete with those that are unrelated and compete with mentalities. Mentalities can be a serious threat to the success of our brands. One example is the do-it-yourself mentality. If you are an accountant and meet potential customers who are convinced that they can do their own accounting, you have lost an opportunity. Whether the do-it-yourselfers do a terrible job or a great job is irrelevant; it is their perception of how well they perform the task that dictates whether they become customers. This is why marketing campaigns must focus not only on differentiating products and services from competitors’, but also on explaining why potential customers need offerings like ours in the first place. Then, the focus can shift to explaining why customers should choose our offerings instead of our competitors’.


Authenticity is an essential aspect of marketing, according to Blankenship. The Tampa Bay Lightning is an authentic brand. The owner of the team, Jeffrey Vinik, makes a consistent and sincere effort to improve the Tampa Bay community and that mentality trickles down to those who work for him. The Lightning funds the Community Heroes Program, in which one community philanthropist (hero) is nominated every game, and the Lightning donates $50,000 to the nominated philanthropist’s cause. This total has now eclipsed more than $10,000,000 since the program started nearly 5 seasons ago. Vinik has also taken an aggressive approach to promoting hockey within the community, especially for underprivileged youth.  The Lightning’s focus on community extends to its business ventures as well; the team will only enter into partnerships with companies that share its focus on community building and community engagement. By focusing sincerely on community engagement, the Lightning creates experiences far beyond those that fans see in the arena and this attracts even more potential fans to the team.

Key Takeaways

Philanthropy is on every company’s checklist and many companies feel that they have to do it. Blankenship warns that this feeling of obligation is more obvious to customers and the community than most companies realize, and therefore, does little to bolster these companies’ popularity. To enjoy benefits of community engagement, a company’s senior leaders should choose projects that they are passionate about and that fall in line with the company’s core values. If senior executives are sincere, this sincerity will transfer to employees and, ultimately, the brand and company win the loyalty of the community.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The marketing tactics listed above are clearly effective for the Tampa Bay Lightning because the team gained 300,000 new fans just in the past 6 months alone, and has reached one million total.  Every game has sold out this season and future games are expected to sell out as well. Blankenship admits that, although games being sold out is a positive, the downside is that games sell out so far in advance that it’s becoming tougher for new fans to find tickets to their very first games. In the end, being sold out of our offerings is a problem we marketers wish we could create for our own companies. If we employ the tactics above (especially in industries in which experience marketing is uncommon), we will stand out among competitors. We will be one step closer to selling out and sending that puck sailing…right into the goal.

About the Author

Chiara Tedone


Chiara is Digital Content Creator and Blog Manager for AMA Tampa Bay. She is Co-founder and Director of Winning the Fight, a non-profit organization specializing in neurodegenerative disease research. Chiara is also a freelance digital marketer for small businesses and is finishing up her MBA with a specialty in marketing from the University of South Florida. Prior to moving to Florida, Chiara lived in Washington, DC. She earned her BA in International Studies from American University’s School of International Services in 2007 and worked for Booz Allen Hamilton and the Department of Defense thereafter. Her hobbies include obstacle racing, running, swimming, kayaking, SCUBA diving, and opera/classical singing. She also loves country music and chocolate!

Contact Chiara

Email: Chiara at [email protected]

Social Media: LinkedIn