“Fans wearing visiting team-branded apparel will be asked to remove such apparel while in these areas,” according to the Lightning’s website.
The policy only applies to two areas: the Lightning’s Lexus Lounge, which includes seats against the glass, and the Chase Club luxury suites, according to Bill Wickett, the team’s executive vice president of communications. Those seats are all held by Lightning season ticket-holders, and because they aren’t available for public sale, they’re only available on the secondary market. The seats in question account for 9 to 10 percent of the Amalie Arena seating, Wickett said.
The dress code is less an assault on sports ethics than a practical decision aimed at appeasing Lightning season ticket holders and ensuring television cameras capture optics that don’t embarrass the home team, he said.
“We want to keep Amalie Arena blue for the playoffs,” Wickett said.
But the policy has been derided in Boston, with Bruins play-by-play voice Jack Edwards writing that Tampa should “embrace the passion of invading fans,” calling that a “public service message from the cradle of liberty and free speech.”
While dictating what logos fans can wear into an arena might seem novel — or perhaps extreme — some sports franchises have made efforts to ensure that fans of the home team fill as many seats as possible. Some have utilized “geofencing” technology, which can restrict ticket sales to targeted Zip codes. The Washington Capitals, for example, limited single-game sales for their second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins to residents of Washington, Maryland and Virginia.
The Lightning similarly targeted its ticket sales in the past, but in 2015, the club switched gears and introduced the home team-friendly dress code for the first time. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals that season, and team officials received positive feedback from season ticket-holders in those sections.
They enforced it again the following season, when the Lightning was ousted by the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals. The team failed to reach the playoffs last year but is a title favorite this postseason, after notching a league-high 54 wins during the NHL’s regular season.
Wickett said there’s never been a clothing restriction in place during the regular season, and that if fans with tickets to one of the luxury seats arrived wearing black and gold gear during the playoffs, the team would offer them a neutral-colored T-shirt to wear instead.
It’s not uncommon at Tampa sporting events to see an arena or stadium overrun with fans of the opposing team, either those who’ve transplanted to the area or those simply needing an excuse for a Florida vacation.
Boston fans have taken notice of the policy, but don’t seem particularly deterred.
“They’ll laugh at that. You can’t keep yellow and black out,” said Thom Popoli Jr., a Massachusetts native and fan of New England sports. “If they want to, they’ll smuggle something in, at least a towel or something. We’re one of the original seven teams — you can’t stop us.”
Popoli owns a sports bar in Naples, Fla., that’s popular with fans of Boston team. It’s called the Foxboro Sports Tavern. He sees the issue from both sides, knowing that sports has a way of riling people up. He’s been accosted wearing his Patriots jersey into opposing NFL stadiums and works to keep his bar a welcome establishment for fans of all teams — with at least one exception.
During this year’s Super Bowl between Philadelphia and New England, anyone wearing Eagles’ gear was turned away.
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