The Lightning went down in flames against Calgary Thursday night, but the Bolt’s first Pride Night was a winner.
Last year, Parker Homans, who volunteers with Balance Tampa Bay, was in an unrelated meeting with the Lightning Foundation head Elizabeth Fraiser and director of group sales Ryan Niemeyer when the idea of hosting a Pride Night came about. Homans suggested bringing Equality Florida, Balance Tampa Bay, and the Tampa Bay Diversity Chamber of Commerce together, and he did just that.
“We never expected to sell as many tickets as we did. We started with 300 and ended up selling 500," he said. "I kept getting text messages and Facebook messages stating the code wasn’t working and in turn I would call the Lightning to have more seats opened up."
Special Pride Night tickets were offered for fans for $32 including a Pride Night T-shirt, and ticketholders were also invited to a pre-game party on top of the Bud Light Party Deck from 5:30-7:30. The extra shirts that were available sold out within 15 minutes of the doors opening; next year, Homans plans on getting a corporate sponsor so every person who walks into the arena will get to take a shirt home.
Prior to game start, the Lightning made an announcement about the NHL’s You Can Play project, which works to ensure safety and inclusion in sports — including LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans. YCP was founded in 2012 in honor of Brendan Burke, who came out to his family and coach in 2007 when he played for the Anaheim Ducks. Everyone was supportive, and Burke went back to his high school every year as an advocate of his life and experiences in what is often considered a homophobic sports culture. Burke tragically died in an automobile accident in 2010 at the young age of 21, but through You Can Play, his legacy lives on.
The 50-50 raffle (as well as money raised from auctioning off the Pride-taped warm-up sticks) will also benefit local LBGTQ organizations. The Calgary Flames are also big supporters of the You Can Play project, and will be auctioning off their players’ warm-up sticks as well. The bidding is open through March 3 at auctions.nhl.com.
For those of you who aren’t in the know, the Lightning Organization donates $50,000 to someone nominated as a community hero during every single game — they're the only organization in Florida that does so. Thursday’s Lightning Community Hero was Nadine Smith, the executive director and co-founder of Equality Florida. Deputy director and co-founder Stratton Pollitzer exclaimed how “wonderful it was that the Lightning chose to honor Nadine and the mission of Equality Florida tonight. It means the world to us that one of our hometown hero franchises cares so much about our work."
Due to the Bolts' popularity, it was more difficult to meet demand for tickets for this first Pride Night than it can be for other Bay area sports franchises. But after seeing the response, it's easy to tell that next year’s Pride Night will be even bigger. Kudos to the Lightning organization, as well as everyone involved for making this a night to remember.