The Tampa Bay Lightning have enacted a playoff dress code policy that prevents fans from wearing Penguins colors in certain sections of Amalie Arena.
With plenty of drama on the ice through the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Penguins and Tampa Bay, the Lightning are making some waves off of the playing surface by enacting a policy restricting fans from wearing opposing team’s gear in certain high-visibility sections of Amalie Arena during Lightning playoff games this year. The rationale behind the rule, per the official policy from the Lightning, is the goal to turn Tampa Bay’s home venue blue for playoff home games, similar to the Penguins gold rush initiative at Consol Energy Center.
While the Lightning have had this rule in place throughout the NHL playoffs, it’s recently drawn significant attention due to the fact that the greater Tampa area is home to a large number of Pittsburgh-area natives. Between full-time northern transplants, both young and retirees, as well as seasonal “snowbirds” who are still on the Florida portion of their calendar, the black and gold presence is undoubtedly strong in Tampa.
Pittsburgh fans have a tendency to turn out in droves and support their teams in away venues as if they were right at home that is known throughout the sports world, and the whole “Pittsburgh represented well in Florida” thing is far from new, with the stands for Steelers games at Tampa and Jacksonville often looking similar to a Heinz Field crowd.
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The practice of teams enforcing a “dress code” at games to prevent opposing fans from showing support in their venue isn’t new, with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Kansas City Royals putting similar measures in place in recent years. For a club to feel compelled to make a policy to force out another team’s fans just begs the question “why?” Is it insecurity that their own fans won’t buy up all of the tickets? Frustration that even though they’ve been in town for nearly 25 years, in the Lightning’s case, that a large portion of locals still stay true to their hometown team? Maybe the displeasure is a bit elevated in the Lightning front office after the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau sponsored the Penguins’ gold rally towels that were given out to fans at Game 1 of the series, with the Pirates annually holding spring training in Bradenton.
It is worth noting, in fairness, that the policy affects roughly 10% of the seating in Amalie Arena. Nonetheless, the sheer idea that a club has to make a rule to prevent people from supporting the opposing team at its games is laughable to say the least. Sports fan-hood generally follows the principles of natural selection, people support the teams they want to, regardless of geographic location.
The internet has blown up with loopholes and back and forth banter in recent days, from a Pittsburgh t-shirt shop selling blue shirts saying “This is not a PITTSBURGH PENGUINS shirt,” with the Pens portion in large letters while the rest is in minuscule print, to fans who have poured over every line of the actual policy document to note that one clause states apparel where the Lightning’s logo is ‘facing-off’ against that of their opponent is not on the restricted list and coming up with variations of faceoff shirts where the skating Penguins is huge next to a minute Lightning logo.
It’s unlikely that the Lightning will do away with the policy at any point in the series – about as unlikely as it is that they’ll actually be able to keep Penguins fans out of the other 90% of the arena.