The Lightning took Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Friday, but Tampa Bay-area fans aren’t happy after a local visitors bureau issued rally towels to the Pittsburgh Penguins before the game.
Bradenton’s just across the bay from Tampa, and is a city best known for permanently reeking of rotten oranges. It’s also been the Pirates’ spring training home since 1969, so it’s not like there’s no Allegheny connection here. But competition amongst local tourism bureaus is fierce, with each outlet seeking to one-up its neighbors with increasingly ludicrous (and occasionally clever) stunts.
Bradenton’s vistors’ bureau sponsoring some northern city’s sports team promotion isn’t, thus, a surprise. That they happened to sponsor rally towels for the Lightning’s ECF opponent, however, wasn’t the brightest decision.
It’s likely no one would have even noticed, though, if Bradenton’s tourism bureau hadn’t tweeted a now-deleted “Have fun!” reply to the Penguins 45 minutes before the puck dropped in Game 1. The local cable sports channel picked up on the story, and soon #BoycottBradenton was trending in Tampa.
(Surprise! Most of us were already boycotting Bradenton, due to the aforementioned rotten citrus smell or the lack of anything to do there ten months a year—especially now that Motorworks Brewing is distributing all over.)
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau released at least three apologies on Friday night alone, trying to explain away their stunt:
Our staff and stakeholders truly love the Lightning and we will cheer them all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship. Our marketing tactics by no means represent the great fans of the Bradenton Area but our organization’s objectives are always to drive visitors to our area so they can invest in our community. Focusing on helping to provide year-round stimulus is vital to our area but we also want be clear to our community of dedicated Lightning fans that our heart is with the Lightning franchise.
On Saturday, the Lightning followed up with their own statement in an attempt to settle the furor:
We understand that our region and our state have been built on the tourism industry and we acknowledge Bradenton’s great long term relationship with the city of Pittsburgh and its people. We are all in the business of selling the state’s assets — our beaches, the water, sunshine, great weather — as we continue working to grow and develop our regional economy.
Hopefully hockey fans throughout the region, including our friends in Bradenton, can enjoy a competitive, spirited Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and the Penguins.
The puck drops on Game 2 in Pittsburgh tonight.