By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com senior columnist
(CBS) When an executive defends a business decision by insisting that he’s not sorry they made it, that’s a pretty good indication that he knows it’s wrong.
Such is the case with the manifest insecurities of the Tampa Bay Lightning as they prepare to welcome the Blackhawks for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night. “Welcome” is probably not the ideal word in this case, however, after one notices the stern language on the team’s Ticketmaster site articulating their limitations on purchases.
“Please note,” it reads, “Amalie Arena is located in Tampa, FL. Sales to this event will be restricted to residents of Florida. Residency will be based on credit card billing address. Orders by residents outside the selected area will be canceled without notice and refunds given.”
It’s fashionable now for lesser NHL cities in this country to act petulantly like this, assuming they can use policies to somehow create more people who actually like their team and also assuming the vocalized loyalties of fans have a tangible effect on winning or losing. Nashville adopted this silly strategy earlier this year, particularly to ward off Blackhawks fans who seem to enjoy spending for plane tickets and hotel rooms to watch a hockey dynasty in full force. Imagine that.
The Predators are back in their respective homelands now, fishing and golfing, so whether the attempt to protect their precious home-ice advantage worked or not is questionable, at best.
But what’s good for one small market is good for another, apparently, so the Lightning instituted similar rules for the playoffs.
“We’re not going to apologize for the policy,” Lightning vice president Bill Wickett told the New York Times. “We want to create as much of a hometown environment for the Lightning players and our season-ticket holders as we can.”
And to that end, they didn’t stop with tickets. No, the Lightning are policing clothing, too.
More from their Ticketmaster site, when you click on Game 1:
“Chase Club and Lexus Lounge ticket holders: Please note that for all 2015 NHL Playoff Games at Amalie Arena, only Tampa Bay Lightning apparel (or neutral) will be permitted in these club and adjoining seating areas. Fans wearing visiting team apparel will be asked to remove them while in these areas.”
What about underpants? Lucky socks? Will scans and pat-downs be required to root out any Indian-headed item otherwise squirreled away?
And this in Florida, no less, a state of transplants to begin with. Most everybody there is from somewhere else, with every possibility that some of those perfectly legal credit card addresses belong to Blackhawks fans because there are, you know, more of them.
This kind of ridiculous behavior ignores the speed and power of the secondary market to get tickets in the hands of those most motivated to attend, which in the end will be a contingent of Chicagoans large enough to unsettle the nervous Mr. Wickett and others. The Lightning were ninth out of the 30 NHL teams in total attendance this season but ranked 19th in percentage of capacity. The Blackhawks were tops in the league in both.
I’m not sure what people do in the Tampa area in springtime, because the Rays are dead last in baseball with a paltry attendance average of 14,650 in their 27 home games this year. When you draw 6,442 fewer fans per game than even the moribund White Sox, something’s wrong.
There’s also unfounded presumption that the crowd influences the outcome, when the opposite is true. A home team in the NHL is at an advantage for an intelligent coach to use the last change to match lines and for face-off specialists to get a moving start at the dot. Those opportunities should provide a team with every chance to keep a horde of interlopers very quiet by scoring more goals than the opponent. That’s how this works.
Attempts to create an artificially controlled “hometown environment” sure seem like a needless expenditure of energy and concern for a franchise that won a Cup of its own as recently as 2004. If that wasn’t enough to grow and sustain a fan base sufficiently to this point, it’s probably not worth the trouble.