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Tampa Bay Lightning fans are typically viewed as outsiders by the rest of the National Hockey League. They always hear the northerners try to claim that “Tampa isn’t a hockey town.” While we don’t have snow, nor ice at any point during the year, and we do live in a tropical paradise that those same northerners love to vacation at; Tampa IS a hockey town, and here’s why.

Northerners Living in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay area has a very large population of people who have, for one reason or another, relocated from up north to right here in the good ole’ Sunshine State. This has obviously helped bring hockey culture to an area that doesn’t usually get to see winter sports live. Many of those people who have relocated have converted to, and embraced being a Lightning fan, this leads to their children becoming fans paving the way for future generations. However, the generation that holds the most fans could potentially be the Millennials and Generation Z, the ones that were born around the time or after the Lightning franchise was created in 1992. Even some children of families who are from the north are born Lightning fans if they were born in the Tampa Bay area. No matter what sport it is or where it is located, it takes time to build a fan base and the Bolts’ is starting to explode.

Attendance

NHL attendance records are usually a good indication of how well a franchise is doing in their area and over the last few years not many teams have had a better attendance than the Tampa Bay Lightning. In each of the last three seasons the Bolts have been in the top 10 in both average attendance and total attendance numbers. Most of the criticism of Tampa not being a hockey town comes from places like Chicago and New York, especially in this past season. So let’s compare the attendance records of all three of these teams.

From 2001 to 2008, the Chicago Blackhawks NEVER had a better attendance record than the Lightning. It wasn’t until they began their three championships in six years dynasty that they then took over number one in the overall rankings. In fact, from 2000 to 2007 the Hawks never even broke the top 20. This means that the beloved “Original 6” team was in the lower third of attendance and not getting support from their dedicated fans for at least seven years straight (only the last 15 seasons’ attendance records were available to me).

The New York Rangers haven’t had a better attendance record than the Tampa Bay Lightning since the 2010-2011 season. Furthermore, the Rangers haven’t even broke the top 10 in attendance in the last 10 years, the last time they did was the year before the lockout season, the Bolts championship season. In the last 15 years the Lightning’s average attendance ranking (13) is higher than Chicago’s (14) and one less than New York’s (12). So no longer can attendance be given as evidence in an argument for why Tampa is not a hockey town.

Stanley Cup Finals Ticket Sales

As you would expect for any championship game or series, it sold out. But what was unusual about the sale for the Lightning was how fast it sold out. The tickets went on sale at 12 PM the Saturday before the series started. By 1 PM when I tried to purchase my tickets, all four potential games were sold out, they had been sold out for 58 minutes. Every ticket starting at $175 all the way up to $10,000 were completely gone. This was before the Bolts even knew who their opponent would be or whether or not they’d have home ice and they still sold out in less than two minutes. Only a fan base that is crazy about their team could have tickets at those prices go so fast.

Watch Parties

Countless watch parties were held at bars and parks around the Bay area throughout the postseason, especially during the Stanley Cup Finals. During home games the Lightning set up a watch party outside of the doors of Amalie Arena in Thunder Alley for the fans that couldn’t acquire a ticket to the game, and an estimated 1,500 fans showed up each time. For game three of the finals, the official watch party was held at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and despite some inclement weather an estimated 5,000 fans stuffed themselves in front of the two giant silver screens to cheer on their Bolts.

Game six was the crazy one. After game four’s watch party was cancelled due to major safety concerns because of flooding, management officials decided to host the watch party inside of the arena. Doors opened almost two hours before the game started and the arena was over half full in just minutes. The 20,000 seat venue came very close to meeting capacity for the road game that was shown on the giant 50 by 28 foot video board. Prior to the game they went through all of the pregame festivities and the atmosphere was electric, like the game was actually being played right there in Tampa.

So really people, isn’t it about time we drop the “Tampa isn’t a hockey town” insult? Tampa Bay has everything you look for in a hockey town minus the cold weather. The culture, the attendance, the dedicated and passionate fans, a successful team. If that doesn’t define a hockey town then I don’t know what does.

Sports-Kings Around the Rink contributor Zac D’Urso @ZacHockeyWriter

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