Tonight, when the puck drops for Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Tampa, the stadium will be packed with fans of the home team...and precious few Chicago Blackhawks fans. You know them...the out-of-town fans that spend millions on hotel rooms, meals, liquor and just about anything else within sight.
It's not that Blackhawks fans don't travel well (they do). It's that the Tampa Bay Lightning has instituted the following policy for ticket sales: "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.”
I get that having a raucous fan base is often an advantage for the home team...but, at what cost to the local economy?
Maybe the Lightning are convinced that there are enough North and South Florida residents interested in coming to the Playoffs to fill as many hotel rooms in town as Hawks fans would have. But, that's missing a much bigger picture. Maybe it never crossed their mind.
Most Florida residents have a sense of, or experience in, Tampa Bay. Most Blackhawks fans probably don't. And, this was their chance to show off their sensational city to a whole new set of consumers that, if my experience with that city is any judge, would place it on their list of "oh, hell yeah, let's go back" destinations.
While the Team will show up to battle the Hawks tonight, the franchise forfeited a wonderful opportunity to enhance the region's visitor economy for years to come.
In addition to looking frightened and insecure.