The Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau was full of apologies to Tampa Bay Lightning fans Saturday after it unleashed an internet storm Friday by issuing a rally towel to the team's rival.
The online brouhaha was ignited when a Pittsburgh Penguins tweet thanked the Bradenton CVB for providing the towels. The yellow rally towels intended for fans had "Let's Go Pens!" superimposed over the image of a mascot Penguin holding a hockey stick. Underneath the logo, the words Bradenton, Anna Maria and Longboat Key were listed along with the BradentonGulfIslands.com web address.
Fans found out about the Bradenton CVB gesture when the Pittsburgh Penguins tweeted, "We're gold rushing into the Eastern Conference Final! Shoutout to @VisitBradenton for the rally towels!"
The Bradenton Area CVB tweeted: "Have fun!"
The Tampa Bay Lightning went on to win 3-1 in game one of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Despite the win, Tampa Bay fans were unhappy with the Bradenton CVB, and overnight #BoycottBradenton began to trend on Twitter in the Tampa Bay area.
The Bradenton Area CVB released the first of multiple statements Friday in an attempt to clarify its intentions.
"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," Bradenton CVB Executive Director Elliot Falcione said in a statement.
Tampa Bay Lightning fans seemed unimpressed Saturday morning by the CVB response, and #BoycottBradenton was among the top 10 trending topics in the area.
The CVB continued to try to reassure unhappy fans locally by explaining the agency is tasked with promoting tourism to the area.
"Our staff and stakeholders truly love the Lightning and we will cheer them all the way to the Stanley Cup Championship," the statement said. "Our marketing tactics by no means represent 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."
Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning also issued a statement, which helped cool the furor.
"We understand that our region and our state have been built on the tourism industry and we acknowledge Bradenton's great long term relationship with the city of Pittsburgh and its people. We are all in the business of selling the state's assets -- our beaches, the water, sunshine, great weather -- as we continue working to grow and develop our regional economy," the Tampa Bay Lightening's statement said. "Hopefully hockey fans throughout the region, including our friends in Bradenton, can enjoy a competitive, spirited Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and the Penguins."
The Bradenton Area CVB even took to Facebook in attempts to change the tone, ending its post with #bradentonlovesthebolts.
"Together, the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Greater Bradenton Area, are a community who loves and supports the Tampa Bay Lightning," the Facebook post says. "We apologize to those within the Lightning fan base who are offended and angered by our recent promotion with the Pittsburgh Penguins. We have, and always will support the Lightning."
The second game of the Tampa Bay-Pittsburgh series will begin at 8 p.m. Monday with the Lightning hoping to secure a 2-0 series lead and the chance to close out the series at home.