TAMPA – The Tampa Bay Lightning have come under fire for playoff ticket policies that take extreme measures in keeping visiting fans out of Amalie Arena. One of those policies has resulted in a massive public relations blunder for the Bolts.
Those policies have included restricting ticket sales to certain Florida zip codes and banning gear representing the visiting team from their premium seating and luxury suite areas – the team will ask fans to remove the gear, or be relocated to another seat. But the team has also targeted fans that might sell their tickets on the secondary market during the playoffs for exponential profit, and to those reviled visiting fans.
Paul Dhillon owns two season tickets behind the Tampa Bay Lightning bench. He’s a die-hard fan, but he couldn’t make the Stanley Cup Final – an Army captain and assistant professor at the University of South Florida Army ROTC program, he’s at Fort Knox in Kentucky for training over the next five weeks.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, Dhillon, 32, sold about half of his 41 home game tickets on StubHub during the season with no issues. Then he tried to sell Round 1 playoff seats for the Lightning’s series against the Detroit Red Wings. He was contacted by the Lightning’s sales and marketing department and was told they preferred he not sell the tickets, potentially to a Red Wings fan.
From the Times:
Dhillon was informed he had three options: Use the tickets, give them back to the team for games he couldn't attend or have his account canceled. Though it meant forgoing large profits on the secondary market, Dhillon didn't sell any more tickets for the next two rounds.
For the Stanley Cup final, though, he thought if he resold the tickets through Ticketmaster's resale exchange accessed through the Lightning website, Ticketmaster would block anyone outside Florida from buying his tickets. He sold two $290 tickets to Game 2 against the Chicago Blackhawks for $2,600 a piece.
But the out-of-state restriction did not apply to Ticketmaster's resale market, and Dhillon received another phone call from the Lightning front office. This time, he was told the Lightning was taking the rest of his tickets.
A day later, the team backtracked and said he could still use his tickets, but only if he personally picked them up from will call. He could not print them out and was locked out of his online account. If he wanted to give his tickets to another Lightning fan, he would have to inform will call who was taking his place.
He eventually gave the tickets to his neighbor … who sat in front of Chicago Blackhawks fans during Game 1.
Why was Dhillon singled out? Probably because of where he sits: Directly behind the Lightning bench, sometimes in clear view of TV cameras. And if the Lightning are going this far to make it appear the arena is covered in blue jerseys rather than Chicago red, they're going to target a ticket holder that in that kind of spotlight.
Here’s the thing: There is absolutely nothing in Dhillon’s agreement as a season-ticket holder that prevents him from selling his tickets on the secondary market, as he did during the regular season. Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke told the Times that it just prefers its fans to try “once, twice, three times to sell to Lightning fans” before putting the tickets on the market.
After the Times got wind of the story, the team quickly relented and Dhillon was allowed to print, transfer or sell his tickets online again.
"If a gentleman serving our country feels he was slighted, oh my god, we owe him an apology," Leiweke said told the paper.
And yet despite this nonsense having led to an ordeal for one of its most dedicated (and decorated) fans, Leiweke said the polices are in place because fans were tired of visiting fans “overwhelming” the arena. It's all about preserving the game-going experience for Lightning fans. At least in the postseason.
"I specifically apologize to this (captain),'' he said, "but I'm not going to apologize for our efforts to make sure this building is our home."