When new owner Vincent Viola took the reins of the Florida Panthers prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, he made it very clear that the team would no longer be content to simply survive in Florida, but flourish instead.
As the inaugural season of the Viola-Cifu era comes to a close, both players and management have already begun to look ahead to an offseason in which new ownership will have the time and planning to truly make their mark both on and off the ice.
With that in mind, there are several key areas that should be addressed if the organization hopes to go from a perpetual sideshow to a respected franchise.
Some areas in need of change are obvious.
For one, the arena experience at the BB&T Center would benefit greatly from a complete overhaul as it looks to move on from the somewhat campy approach that former President Michael Yormark had to utilize in order to sell seats during some of the franchise’s darkest years.
While it’s understandable that the arena needs sell ad space and promote upcoming acts for the entertainment side of Sunrise Sports & Entertainment (SSE), it does not mean that the Panthers in-game presentation needs to feel like it focuses more on promoting concerts than maximizing the arena experience for the fans in attendance.
If the Panthers ever hope to have an arena with the kind of character and atmosphere that can be found within places like “The Rock” or “The Shark Tank”, they will need to begin the process of transforming their building from a large billboard to an arena that fans can be proud to call home.
Needing winning more than anything to help expedite this process, though, the Panthers can still get a head start on updating the arena’s aesthetics this offseason as they begin to mold their brand under the old adage of “dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”
As for the handling and marketability of the team’s on-ice product, I believe that it can be broken down into three simple principles.
Honor the past. Report the present. Sell the future.
Though this triumvirate of change may seem commonplace at first, let me first explain exactly what ideas I have in mind for each of these points.
Honor the past
For a team that has only been around for 20 seasons, there is still a lot to love about the history of the Florida Panthers. While recent years were marred by a sub-par product and a very limited budget, even the most downtrodden seasons have had at least one moment or player worth remembering.
And although the majority of the team’s post-millennium escapades were forgettable, the unique and invaluable sense of cool that defined the Panthers’ teams of the 1990’s is still a present and marketable aspect of the club.
Continued reminders of the team’s glory days would not only honor where the team has been, but also give fans a reminder of where this team will be heading once again.
While it may be easier to simply bury the team’s checkered past as new ownership builds towards a brighter future, it will be the memories of the past that make the team’s turnaround all that much sweeter.
Report the Present
With a commitment to winning and the promise to be a team that spends up to the salary cap from this point forward, the Panthers will now begin their climb out of the cellar of the Eastern Conference.
After finishing the 2013-14 season with an overall record of 29-54-12, the Panthers will have a lot of work to do this offseason if they hope to field a competitive team next year.
Even with the announcement that General Manager Dale Tallon hopes to sign at least five free agents this offseason, a one-year turnaround from worst to first shouldn’t be expected.
There are reasons to tune in, however, as the Panthers contend for playoff spot in a top heavy Eastern Conference.
During the upcoming season, the focus should be on the Panthers’ rise from the ashes, as well as the continued development of the team’s young talent.
While success next season is not guaranteed, creative reporting on the team’s stars such as Roberto Luongo and Aleksander Barkov should not only attract the attention of the national media, but also help the team reach new markets.
Sell the future
Fueling the hope for better days in South Florida is the team’s outstanding, highly ranked prospect pool.
After four years of drafting in the lottery and with a knack for finding second-round gems, General Manager Dale Tallon has pieced together one of the best groups of young talent in the entire NHL.
While names like Barkov, Bjugstad and Huberdeau are already quickly becoming known both in South Florida and beyond, the team should also focus on selling the next wave of incoming talent.
Though the Panthers have won little hardware in recent seasons, nearly every one of their draft selections will sign their first NHL contract already draped in accolades from their various stops through hockey’s pipeline.
Seeing an increase in the coverage of the team’s young talent in the CHL, NCAA and overseas would not only help build excitement for the stars of the future, but also help fans be more confident in the direction that the organization is heading.
Under the joint leadership of owner Vincent Viola and General Manager Dale Tallon, I see no reason why the Panthers will not only once again bring pride to South Florida residents, but also utilize their comeback story and unique brand of hockey to become a secondary rooting interest for many NHL fans around the world.
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