The Chicago Blackhawks won Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals Wednesday, defeating the host Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 with two late goals in the third period.
The Blackhawks won despite the best efforts of the Lightning to turn Wednesday’s game into a home game for them, which it already was. The game was played in Tampa Bay, which has home ice advantage of the series.
Following the lead that has been attempted by others, the Tampa Bay organization restricted sales of tickets for its home games in this series to people with Florida addresses connected to the credit cards used to buy the tickets. This was an attempt to keep Blackhawk fans from attending the game and turning Tampa Bay’s Amalie Arena into United Center South (the Blackhawks play at the United Center in Chicago).
As Rocky the Flying Squirrel once said to Bullwinkle, “That trick never works.”
Chicago area TV stations reporting on the game Wednesday had no trouble finding Blackhawk fans in easily identifiable Blackhawks gear to interview before and after the game. They were easier to find after the game because they were the ones smiling.
Tampa Bay officials did keep anyone with Blackhawks gear out of the arena’s fancier dining establishments, although someone suggested that was a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution, the one that proffers the right to free speech. The restriction of ticket sales seems to be a violation of whatever free trade agreements might apply.
When news hit Chicago that the Lightning were trying to keep Chicagoans out, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel had a priceless response. He publicly invited Tampa Bay fans to buy whatever tickets were available and come see what life is like in the big city, where teams don’t have to worry about being out-attended by visiting team fans.
The fact of the matter is that warm weather cities often make horrible sports towns, especially in Florida and California. Miami is notoriously bad in terms of getting fans out to games; its baseball teams have suffered ever since Major League Baseball moved in, even though the Marlins have won two – count ‘em, two – World Series titles (take that, Chicago Cubs fans).
Miami, populated as it is by Hispanic Americans and immigrants, can’t even maintain professional soccer teams, which should be a slam dunk.
The National Football League is trying to repopulate Los Angeles with a team, 20 years after the city allowed the Rams to run away to St. Louis. The NFL is dying to get back into the huge TV market, even though the market itself hasn’t been clamoring for its own football team.
When the Blackhawks played the Anaheim Ducks in the NFL Western Conference finals deciding Game 7, the TV ratings in southern California for that game was a 3-point-something. The Chicago ratings were a 26-something. And when the Blackhawks scored, as they did often in that game, the Honda Center in Anaheim sounded like United Center West thanks to the Blackhawks fans who attended.
In today’s sports ticket marketplace, anyone who wants a ticket and can afford one can get one. It’s silly for Tampa Bay to try to keep out Blackhawks fans who can go on Stubhub or Craigslist and get tickets with relative ease. It’s embarrassing, actually, that team officials have so little faith in its own fan base or its team on the ice to resort to such trickery.
This is being written from the northern suburbs of Chicago, where Millionaire Corner is located. I have two teenage sons who are huge sports fans, and who have grown up in a major league sports market with addicted fan bases.
So it was no surprise how my older son reacted to a news report that Tampa Bay was attempting to keep out Blackhawks fans for the games in Florida.
“I’m glad I live in a city where that sort of thing isn’t necessary,’’ he said.