One former Eagle remains in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he stands tall (both literally at 6’7” and figuratively), while the others around him have fallen flat. Brian Boyle and the Tampa Bay Lightning are currently playing for one of the greatest prizes in the world: the Stanley Cup.
As a Tampanian, I am currently experiencing one of the best things that sports has to offer: The Lightning, my team, playing in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Chicago Blackhawks, following a dominant regular season. However, their accomplishments on the ice have been overshadowed by some of their policies in the front office.
The Lightning organization has recently come under fire for it’s ticketing policy in the playoffs. It has restricted online playoff ticket sales to Florida residents only and has banned opposing team gear in certain areas of the arena. This policy has everyone outside of Tampa Bay up in arms, largely due to a vast exaggeration of the limitations.
The only ticket sale limitation is if a fan is buying directly from the Lightning’s Ticketmaster site, meaning anyone who calls the box office or buys from a secondary site can purchase tickets, regardless of where they live. Further, the restriction of fan gear is only in 1,520 seats of the 20,500 seat arena, meaning that 99.93% of the arena’s seating is free range for people to wear whatever they want.
Regardless of these clarifications, people still exaggerate the policy to make it seem worse than it is, and many are still peeved about it.
Nobody really understands, however, that this policy is absolutely necessary if the organization wants any type of home ice advantage. Tampa sports fans are not the best, especially compared to the likes of Boston, New York, Montreal or Chicago. I hate to say that, and as much as I love this city and its teams, facts are facts. And spending a year in Boston has really put my hometown’s lack of team commitment and sports knowledge on display.
Boston is a town known for its sports; title town, bean town, whatever you may call it, the city is associated with winning and champions. In the last fifteen years alone, Boston has brought home nine championships spanning across all four sports.
Hop on a plane for three hours and travel south, and you find yourself in the sunshine state. Specifically, Tampa, Florida, a place that is not known for its sports, not known for its die-hard fans, and not known to be a home of champions.
I wouldn’t expect the people sitting around me at a game decked out in their Bolts' blue to know the difference between an offsides and an icing. I doubt that half of the people filling the arena know the team’s players outside of its first two lines. As frustrating as that may be, they still show up and cheer the team on, even if they don’t know what they’re cheering about or who they’re cheering for, and that has to be worth something, right?
Boston has history on its side. The Bruins are a member of the "Original Six," one of hockey’s most prestigious clubs; the Patriots are a dynasty; the Red Sox are one of America’s most storied teams and play in one of the country’s most famous ballparks; and the Celtics were playing in the NBA before it was even called the NBA.
Boston has one of the most prominent and committed followings in professional sports. From birth, Bostonians are bred to eat, sleep and breathe their bean town teams. A woman from Auburn, MA even used her obituary to declare Brady’s innocence in deflategate; now that’s what you call commitment.
Tampa has very little history and owes a good majority of its athletic success to the city of Boston, as Boston great Phil Esposito came to Florida in 1992 to start a NHL expansion team in an old expo hall at the Florida State Fairgrounds; and thus, the Lightning were born, long after some of the original players…
The Lightning have been doing well these past two seasons (since winning their first and only Cup in 2004), and it has reflected in fan following: the contingent of fans has grown tremendously in the past few years, making Amalie Arena ninth in the league for attendance. Other Tampa teams have not faired so well.
The Rays are 1.5 games out of first place in the AL East, but their attendance is currently ranked the worst in the MLB, leading to speculation that Tampa may ultimately lose their team to Montreal…and the Buccaneers have not been relevant since 2002, when they won Super Bowl XXXVII. Their relevance has only reemerged since they drafted Famous-Jameis Winston and his crab legs first overall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
No matter how many games the Red Sox are out of first or how badly the Bruins are losing or how many times Tom Brady and the Patriots are accused of cheating or how bad the Celtics are doing, Boston fans will be there, because that is their nature.
I have gone to a Bruins-Lightning game at the Garden, and being the obnoxious sports fan that I am, you better believe I wore every item of Bolts gear that I own. There was a level of respect for me among those in their black and yellow, because I showed up, supported my team and knew the game pretty well; but, there was no absence of trash talking from the Bruins faithful, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But when you show up in Tampa, you don’t get that. The stadium is probably half Tampa fans and half whoever the visiting team is, and it is especially bad when one of the "Original Six" teams come into town.
There exist a very limited number of people who are raised to support Tampa teams (myself being one of them), because the majority of people are raised supporting the teams of wherever their parents are from, or people retire to Tampa and cheer for their hometown favorites. Tampa teams have support only until the real hometown teams come to town, and just like that, the Lightning/Rays/Bucs gear is hung up and the truth comes out.
So cut the city some slack and try to understand that not every city can be Boston.
Tampa is not a sports town; it is a vacation destination with a few major league franchises sprinkled about. But despite the slight lack of fandom, and the lack of history, Tampa teams still manage to do pretty well for themselves, and that’s the most any fan can hope for.
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