Meet the people behind the Tampa Bay Lightning’s ice, game graphics and more

TAMPA — When the lights dim and electricity crackles from the Tesla coils inside Amalie Arena, excited fans focus on the Tampa Bay Lightning players vying to win the game on the ice. But an enormous team extends beyond those players, comprised of more than 200 employees whose jobs revolve around making the game experience memorable.

A control room full of people handles camera angles and graphics, seeing the game as a story that fans are experiencing in real-time. Ice maintenance staff ride Zambonis, having spent hours before the game making sure the ice is perfect — filtered but not too pure, free from too much humidity in the air — and hard enough to help the players go fast. Others change out the pucks, which are kept in a freezer to ensure they don’t bounce. The Lightning’s chief executive sits not in a suite but in his preferred spot in the nosebleeds, in between making rounds throughout the arena to check in with staff.

It’s all part of a workplace culture that staff says emphasizes teamwork and community service.

“The people are definitely the best part,” said Felicia Sablan, manager of production operations. She works in the control room, making quick decisions about when to display which graphics and even which fans resemble certain cartoon characters for the “Look-a-Like Cam.” She said the production staff has goofy rituals for each game, like fist-pumping every time the song “Sandstorm” plays. It makes her stressful job feel like fun.

But she loves working for the fans, too, particularly seeing the reaction from kids who get featured on the big screen for the first time.

“The experience is for them — for them to have fun, for them to feel like they’re a part of something,” Sablan said.

Steve Griggs, chief executive officer and vice chairman, said the Lightning organization has worked hard to develop a culture of treating people well. He said he usually puts in about 15,000 steps per game because he constantly walks the building, talking to ticket takers and other staff. When he’s not circulating the arena, he’s watching the game from his favorite spot on the 300-level upper deck, where he used to come with his kids.

“I want to be connected to the fans. I want to be connected to our part-time staff. I know them all by name. They know me by name. I am not ‘Mr. Griggs,’ I’m ‘Steve,’” he said. “It creates a culture of, ‘We’re all in it together.’ There’s no hierarchy.”

The Lightning’s leaders know they ask a lot of their employees, particularly in the long hours of playoff season, so they work to make sure people feel valued. On-site therapists come to the arena offices once a week for free sessions. They are offered public speaking and leadership training programs, regular events for employee appreciation and to celebrate big games. All full-time employees received authentic rings after the team’s recent Stanley Cup championships.

Giving back to the community is another major emphasis at the company — one that staff said stems from the team’s owner, Jeff Vinik.

In 2022, each full-time employee was given $5,000 from Vinik’s family foundation to donate to a charity of their choosing. They are asked to volunteer at least 40 hours per year and are paid for that time away from their desks.

Some employees brought up less institutional actions that were just as meaningful.

Kerry Allen, director of event services, had been working for the Lightning for only one week when Hurricane Idalia hit last year. Griggs, the CEO, texted him to see if he had a safe place to go.

“I hadn’t even met him or talked to him face-to-face yet,” Allen said.

Ali Murdock, the assistant manager of ice operations, said she and other members of her team were out on the ice as the players celebrated their Stanley Cup win at home in 2021. At one point, Coach Jon Cooper came over to the ice staff to take a group picture — then some of the players brought the cup, too.

A National Hockey League official told Murdock he’d never seen anything like it, she said.

“I think it says how much (the players) appreciate all the work that goes into it, from everyone in the organization,” Murdock said.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Location: Tampa

Employees: 230


Employee comments: “I get to fulfill my dream job of working in sports, and making memories of a lifetime for our clients.”

“I am able to make positive impacts among people in the Tampa community.”

“There are no egos. Everyone works together to achieve the same set of goals regardless of title.”