Written by WJWhite30
“If you believe something is right, you can make changes no matter how old you are” – Brad Bargman
Everyone remembers the Lightning being heavy hitters, winning the Cup in 2004 with Lecalavier, St. Louis, and John Tortorella (American Hero). People also see the current run they have been on since their 2015 Stanley Cup Final matchup against the Blackhawks and what that has done to bolster new fans and league wide attention.
However, everyone is quick to forget that Florida is filled with fair-weather fans and the majority have a “what have you done for me recently” attitude. People forget how bad the Bolts were in those years between playoff runs and how bleak things looked in terms of on-ice performance and fan attendance.
I have bounced all over the US and lived in many places with NHL teams. Places like New York, Boston, and Toronto will always have fans regardless of how the team is playing. But organizations in non-traditional hockey markets, like Florida or Carolina, will struggle when their team is underperforming.
Did you know, it is cheaper for fans to fly down, catch their respective home team, and spend a weekend in places like Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and Raleigh versus catching a game at TD Garden or Scotia Bank? Why do you think teams like the Canes and Panthers schedule games against Boston, Toronto, or Montreal on weekends whenever possible? They know that having those teams in town will double if not triple attendance. I mean wouldn’t you want to escape a Canadian winter, spend some time at the beach, and see your hometown team play? All for a fraction of the cost of going to their home game!
This became a problem in 2015 when the Lightning made their Stanley Cup appearance against the Chicago Blackhawks. The arena and team took the unusual steps of only allowing certain zip codes to purchase tickets to avoid out-of-state fans flooding the arena and trying to keep local Lightning supporters in the stands. This was followed by a huge backlash from fans and the NHL. It made the Lightning a laughing stock of the league, forcing them to quickly abandon many of these rules.
One of these rules never got lifted though. This was the rule which restricted fans from wearing opposing teams’ jerseys in premium seats and club lounges. This gave the Lightning a blackeye that was heard around the league when a sweet 11-year-old was harassed by an overzealous security guard all because he was wearing his beloved Panthers jersey.
I would understand if it was one of those policies that teams keep in in their back pocket just in case some drunks cause a scene, but this kid loves the game of ice hockey and the game has been a huge bond in the father son relationship.
Allow me to introduce Brad and Bryce. The two of them have a passion for the game of hockey and it is something that they have really bonded over. They travel all across North America and the world to see their beloved Panthers and watch the coolest game on ice. Check out @BrycesHockeyRoom on Instagram and I dare you to name a fan of any sport more committed and obsessed than him!
But this article is not about Bryce’s love for the game, even if his passion led to the changing of an NHL team’s policy.
After the Panthers pulled one out of their hats in Game 5, Brad decided that he and Bryce were going to take an epic road trip and see Game 6 in Tampa. Before leaving the BB&T Center, the father-son duo had already bought their seats for Game 6.
As a preface, the story actually starts a few years back when Brad was attending a Rangers vs Lightning game in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Brad saw and open seat along the glass in Amalie Arena and managed to wiggle his way down there while sporting a Rangers jersey. When another fan threatened to call security, Brad beelined it back to his seats out of fear from being caught being in seats that were not his. He had heard rumors about a rule restricting opposing teams’ apparel; however, it seemed to be just that, rumors.
Until this incident, it was difficult to decipher where fans could or could not wear their team’s jersey. A lot was mentioned of the club area, but nowhere specific on the seats. Even the ticket agent, an employee of the Lightning, could not verify on the phone about the jersey policy in their seats.
Fast forward to Game 6 on Wednesday, May 26th. The boys arrive to the arena, find their seats, and then wander over to the section the Panthers were taking warm ups. While heading back to their respective seats, the boys were confronted by a female security guard who became famous in the now viral video. She says that Brad and Bryce cannot sit in the section with a Panther’s jerseys on. Brad says that he “left a few things back at his seat” and they went on back to their seats. When they sat back down, they figured they would be able to enjoy the game and that would be the end of the “jersey situation”.
Now for the shot, or video, heard around the hockey world. Shortly after returning to their seats, Brad and Bryce were confronted by the same security guard, but this time she brought another gentleman as reinforcement. She threatened to bring down TPD to address the situation, which seems completely unnecessary when you consider it is a father and son whose only “crime” is wearing the opposing teams jersey.
In case you have not seen it, check out Brad’s video below:
After what you see here in the video, Brad asked to speak with the person in charge of security so as they could talk and get an official ruling. So, Brad and the two security officers walked upstairs to speak with management. From Brad’s perspective, this also ensured the situation and tension would not escalate in front of his son, Bryce, who was already nervous and worried about being asked to leave the game.
Things got a bit heated, but both parties were able to reach a semi-mutual agreement. While Brad had to remove his jersey, Bryce was allowed to wear his as long as he remained in his seats. Fortunately, TPD was never called and the boys got to stay and watch the game. Even if that meant there was one less Panther’s fan in the stands.
Fortunately, all of this led to the repeal of the ridiculous rule. Here is the statement which the Lightning staff gave to John Romano of the Tampa Bay Times: “After careful consideration the Lightning have elected to relax its visiting team apparel policy in the premium clubs for playoff games at Amalie Arena. The policy was originally instituted in 2015 at the request of our valued ticket holders in those areas, but we realize we have grown as an organization and as a hockey market since that time and it is no longer necessary.”**
Furthermore, the Tampa Bay Lightning CEO, Steve Griggs, reached out to Brad to apologize for the situation. He went as far as offering a full refund of their tickets and even offered his own personal seats for a game next year. Keep in mind that Steve Griggs reached out to Brad after the series against the Panthers concluded and while the Bolts were preparing to face the top team in the Central Division, the Carolina Hurricanes. A CEO cared that much about an opposing fans’ experience that he personally reached out to make things right. Even though I am not a Lightning fan, I can respect the level of customer service, compassion, and sportsmanship shown. That is how the Lightning and the NHL will grow and gain fans.
However, I have not even told you the best part of this story yet. Since all of this was going on in the Tampa Bay Lightning end, Steven Stamkos was able to see the situation and poor Bryce’s discomfort. In true hockey player fashion, Stamkos taps on the glass, gets Bryce’s attention, and tosses the terrified child a puck. A perfect hockey player to hockey player way of saying “everything will be ok”. That is the type of leadership and compassion you do not see in today’s modern world. A multi-million-dollar athlete warming up for a playoff elimination game taking the time to comfort a young fan. I may not be a Lightning fan, but after hearing this, I will always be a Stamkos fan!
In summary, everyone thought this would be another hit piece saying “do better Tampa” or “man that guy was overreacting”; however, I would like to focus on the positives. The Lightning were tough enough to admit when they were wrong, Bryce and Brad were able to add on to their worldwide Panthers tour, and Steven Stamkos showed how a captain is supposed to lead, on the ice and off. In my opinion, the wildest part of this story is that an 11-year-old was able to change an NHL team’s policy simply by showing up and doing what he thought was right. What were you doing at 11?
**Romano, J. (2021, May 28). Lightning to retire jersey policy after flap with Florida fan. Tampa Bay Times. https://www.tampabay.com/sports/lightning/2021/05/28/lightning-to-retire-jersey-policy-after-flap-with-florida-fan/.