Pittsburgh Penguins fans were being told to leave their black and gold gear at home after the Tampa Bay Lightning imposed a dress code at the Amalie Arena during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. After the Lightning imposed a ban on ticket sales for anyone outside of the US during last year’s playoffs, they surprised everyone, yet again, with a clothing ban on anything that isn’t blue or branded with the Lightning logo.
According to the official dress code policy from the Lightning website, “Only Lightning-branded or ‘neutral’ attire and apparel will be permitted in the Club and the Club-designated seating areas during 2015-2016 Lightning playoff games (including any pre-game and any post-game activities). Any attire, apparel, articles of clothing, accessories (e.g., hats, lapel pins, hair accessories, jewelry), or promotional collateral (e.g., mini-flags, noisemakers) that are branded with the name, logo, or registered mark(s) of the then-current 2015-2016 playoff opponent of the Lightning are expressly prohibited in the Club and in the Club-designated seating areas.”
The ban was in effect in the Chase Bank Club, the Lexus Lounge, which included the first two rows in the lower bowl, and the Vology Loge. All together, the ban only covered about 10% of the space inside the arena but that didn’t stop Pens fans from complaining and doing everything in their power to find a way around the rules: from wearing multiple layers of Pen’s gear, to the Commonwealth Press printing company making their own Penguins shirts in blue.
Fans that took the time to read every line of the policy will notice that it said “any apparel that features the “Head-to-Head” branding (wherein the Lightning’s logo is ‘facing-off’ alongside the logo of the Lightning’s opponent) shall not be deemed Restricted Apparel,” causing some fans to make shirts featuring a large Penguins logo next to a small lightning bolt.
If you did choose to wear your licenced Pen’s gear during this last round of playoffs, have no fear Penguins fans, the arena staff had a few options for: you could check your jersey with a member of the Guest Services Staff and they will give you a neutral coloured shirt; you could get a re-entry pass from staff so that you can place any articles of Penguins branded clothing in your car or hotel room; you can have your club seats relocated to a part of the arena where the ban isn’t in effect; or, if you purchased your ticket directly from the Tampa Bay Lightning, you can get a full refund and not attend the game at all. Those sound like fair compromises don’t they?
Now before your blood pressure rises dangerously high, I’m just going to point out that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s rules obviously aren’t working because if they were, I still wouldn’t be able to buy playoff tickets in Canada.
I understand what the Lightning were trying to do with this rule. They wanted to make their arena blue and they wanted to continue to build a passionate fan base in Tampa. They will never have the fan base of the Leafs, or the Capitals, or the Penguins, but that’s not their fault. Even if they are at a disadvantage due to location and climate, they shouldn’t have to justify their existence by making it look like they have more fans than they do. They certainly shouldn’t have to hide the opposing team’s fans. Hockey fans are some of the most passionate fans in sports and when you try to dictate where and when that passion can be displayed, you are going to experience a backlash.
According to Lightning Executive Vice President of Communications Bill Wickett, season ticket holders approached him and wanted this ban put in place. “Season ticket members they like to be with their own right, and they just kind of asked us to keep Lightning fans only in those areas if we can.”
But you can’t legally keep Lightning fans in one area and put a sign out that says ‘No Penguins Fans Allowed’ because that just smacks of pettiness. And I know it shouldn’t be a big deal because it’s only a few areas in the arena that are off-limits but it shouldn’t have to be that way. If you are that worried about being around a Penguins fan or any other fan for that matter who is wearing the opposing team’s colours then you should stay away from the arena, period.
I read this quote the other day and thought it summed up the situation nicely. “The NHL makes money off you purchasing their officially licensed merchandise, but do you know where you can’t wear that officially licensed merchandise later on this week? Inside certain places at an actual NHL game.”
After all, the ‘Reserved Parking for Penguins Fans’ sign that I have in my driveway is meant to be a joke. I’m not actually going to have you towed if you support the Tampa Bay Lightning. This dress code rule should follow along the same lines; we would prefer you support our team, but if you don’t we’re not going to stop you.
In the end, if we discover that it really was the season ticket holders that asked for this rule, then maybe we can forgive them. If we find out that the Tampa Bay Lightning office staff came up with this rule and are using the season ticket holders as a scapegoat, that’s not going to be as easy to forgive.
We will just have to wait until the next Lightning playoff run to see if this dress code policy stays in place or if they scrap it and come up with another plan to keep the Amalie Arena visitor free.