Tampa Bay Rays’ Pride Night: “We’ve sold more tickets to this game faster than any game in our history”

Tampa Bay Rays Pride Night breaks record in speed of ticket sales

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Maybe it was the $5 tickets.

Or the free T-shirts.

Or, much more likely, it was the knowledge that the proceeds from every $5 ticket sold to tomorrow's Pride Night at the Rays would benefit the Pulse Victim Fund.

The team announced on Tuesday morning that all open seats to Friday's game against the San Francisco Giants would be put on sale for $5, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefiting families of the 49 killed and 53 wounded in the mass shooting at Orlando's Pulse nightclub.

The result? “We’ve sold more tickets to this game faster than any game in our history,” Rays President Brian Auld told CL today.

The Rays have been hosting Pride Night games in collaboration with St. Pete Pride every June since 2007, said Auld, and the event has gained momentum over the years. But this is the first time the game has sold out. The response, he said, "exceeeded all of our expectations."

Auld said the team's senior management “almost immediately started talking about what we were going to do” as soon as they heard the news of Sunday's deadly attack. Pride Night was already on the schedule, so they made the decision to dedicate it to the victims of the shooting and raise funds for their families.

"The way that the community has responded has surprised me," Auld said. "It was just so heartwarming – a really positive thing in the wake of this tragedy."

Sell-outs are an uncommon phenomenon for the Rays, so Friday's game will be the rare occasion when the tarps that usually cover up unused seats get rolled up. Attendees can expect to see more security than usual, not just because of safety concerns — "We'll be taking what authorities think are appropriate precautions," said Auld — but due to the fact that they'll be hosting "three times as many people" than the average-sized crowd. Some people had already bought tickets to the game at higher prices before Tuesday's announcement, but so far none of those earlier ticket buyers has complained. "We have not had one phone call," Auld said.

click to enlarge Tampa Bay Rays’ Pride Night:  “We’ve sold more tickets to this game faster than any game in our history”
Tampa Bay Rays
Everyone who goes to the game will be given a free "We Are Orlando" t-shirt with the Rays' familiar sunburst logo printed on it in rainbow hues. Auld says that if everyone in attendance dons the shirts at once, it'll make for a "pretty compelling visual of the unity this community is showing."

The program tomorrow night will include a moment of silence for the victims as a video board scrolls their names. The national anthem and "God Bless America" will performed by Una Voce, the Florida Men's Chorale, and MLB Vice President of Social Responsibility and Inclusion Billy Bean will throw out the first pitch. Bean is a former MLB player who came out as gay after his playing days were over and has since been a strong voice on LGBT issues; Auld credits him and Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith for their advice on how best the team could show its support post-Orlando.

Additional donation centers for the Pulse Victim Fund will be located at the ballpark on Friday night. Proceeds from the team's daily 50/50 raffle will also benefit the fund. Launched Sunday by Equality Florida as a GoFundMe account, the fund has so far raised $4,847,766.

The Rays' support of LGBT equality has not been limited to annual Pride Nights. They were among the teams that made anti-bullying "It Gets Better" videos in 2011, and they were one of only three major league sports teams to sign onto an amicus brief filed last year with the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of same-sex marriage. The other two teams? The New England Patriots and the San Francisco Giants, the Rays' opponents on Friday night. (Both the Rays and the Giants have made videos in support of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Here's the Rays'.)

Note: Parking at the Trop on Friday will be $5 per car at all team-controlled lots. OneBlood will hold blood drives at Tropicana Field starting at 4 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. for Saturday's 4:10 p.m. game.

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