(WFLA) – Tampa Bay Lightning fans weren’t happy Friday when towels for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ supporters listed Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key as apparent supporters. The Lightning and Penguins met in Pittsburgh for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.
WFLA’s Adrienne Pedersen spoke to Tom McMillan, the Vice President of Communications for the Pittsburgh Penguins, over the phone Saturday morning. He says Bradenton sponsors the Penguins all year. He believes the towels were used in the playoff game because so many people in Pittsburgh travel to Florida.
“We see Bradenton commercials all the time here,” McMillan said. “This is nothing unusual.”
He was surprised to find out the social media storm the towels caused. When asked if the people at Visit Bradenton knew the towels would be used for Friday’s game he said, “I can’t imagine they wouldn’t know.”
The Penguins’ Twitter account even posted: “We’re gold rushing into the Eastern Conference Final! Shoutout to @VisitBradenton for the rally towels!”
The Bradenton area released a statement after the Lightning win to clarify the situation.
“On May 13, 2016, the Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement on Twitter thanking the Bradenton, Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key Area for sponsored promotional materials. The Bradenton Area Convention & Visitors Bureau has released a statement to the Tampa Bay community clarifying the purpose of these promotion items. “As a destination, we have and will continue to support the Tampa Bay Lightning through our annual marketing initiatives and wish both teams the best of luck in the Eastern Conference Finals,” said Elliott Falcione, Executive Director of the Bradenton Area CVB.
The Bradenton Area holds deep roots to the Pittsburgh community being the Spring Training destination for the Pittsburgh Pirates and their sister city. The destination currently has marketing campaigns with multiple Pittsburgh sporting teams, including the Pittsburgh Pirates and Pittsburgh Penguins. Due to these and other initiatives, visitation to the destination from the Pittsburgh area has increased by 37 percent. The destination also holds a larger advertising buy with the Tampa Bay Lightning as an official partner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena.
Throughout the state of Florida, it is common for destination marketing organizations to have out-of-state partnerships through sports marketing initiatives, including major league teams. ‘It’s a great way to get our brand in front of a demographic that meshes with our visitor profile,’ Falcione explained. ‘It’s about economic development for our region, the entire region which includes Tampa.'”
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau representative said in an email to Adrienne Pedersen:
The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is the agency that is charged with promoting visitation to our beautiful community. Our staff and stakeholders truly love the Lightning and we will cheer them all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship.
Our marketing tactics by no means represents the great fans of the Bradenton area but our organization’s objectives are always to drive visitors to our area so they can invest in our community. Focusing on helping to provide year round stimulus is vital to our area but we also want be clear to our community of dedicated Lightning fans that our heart is with the Lightning franchise.
We are grateful for our strong relationship with the city of Pittsburgh but we have been a proud sponsor and marketing partner of the Tampa Bay Lightning for the past two years, investing $200,000 in brand advertising programs. These monies that were invested on behalf of the Bradenton Area CVB are tourism tax dollars that are statutorily limited to marketing and promoting a community like ours. At no time does the CVB use or invest Ad Valorem Tax or sales proceeds to promote our area for tourism.
What makes professional sports great is the passion that fans have for their home team and our organization has the same passion not only for our area’s teams but also for working hard for the community that we serve.
In the past two years we have invested $200,000 in tourism monies with the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Amalie Arena and 65,000 with the Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey Club.