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Astroturf in the NHL?

Washington Capitals fans living in Tampa or traveling there for the final game of the Eastern Conference Finals will be faced with a unique dilemma—a playoffs-only dress code forbidding any attendee from wearing Capitals attire or team colors. Further, any fan wishing to purchase a ticket directly from the Tampa Bay Lightning must use a credit card attached to a local zip code. It seems that despite making it to game seven of this playoff series, there is a lack of confidence in the team as illustrated by this absurd (and potentially First Amendment-violating) policy.

On the popular ticket resale website Stubhub, out-of-town buyers are warned “no opposing team colors” in advance of purchases (with some available seats going for north of $1,000 per ticket).

Is there really fear from Tampa officials that some of the toughest hockey players in the National Hockey League (NHL) may be intimidated by a jersey in the stands more so than by one on the ice? Is anyone in the front office worried about how such restrictions will impact the team and its brand?

When looking out at the sea of supporters in the arena on Wednesday night, the players and fans will all know the visuals are staged. Rather than a sense of fan pride, the news that the crowd was “fixed” may prove to be embarrassing for all involved.

When asked about the reasoning for the spirit wear ban, Bill Wickett, Tampa Bay’s executive vice president for communications stated, “We’re not going to apologize for the policy. We want to create as much of a hometown environment for the Lightning players and our season-ticket holders as we can.”

What Wickett fails to realize is the hometown environment has fans from Washington, Chicago, and all across the United States. Florida residents and visitors surely support many different teams—just like fans do in Washington, D.C.

Why restrict the attendees for a sports event that can bring people together? Competition, even fierce competition, can bring people together. One of the most impressive traditions in sports is the “hockey handshake.” After playing as hard as possible, at the end of a playoff series the players come together at the end to show respect for one another—win or lose.

Florida is a popular destination for retirees, and a popular vacation destination for visitors from Washington, and all over. The commerce that comes from these out of state visits to Florida make tourism one of the biggest revenue generators for the state. It is puzzling why a major sports team would purposely seek to alienate a major source of money—especially coming from outside the state.

The silence from political leaders shows they are practically endorsing these commerce killing policies.

Establishing rules that provide a distorted view of support is a tool that the Tampa Bay Lightning has every right to use, but by forcing the issue, their inferiority complex is showing. Effective communicators would surely choose a more authentic path to demonstrate fan support and engagement.

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