BRADENTON, FL (WFLA) – The city of Bradenton is cleaning up and publicly apologizing after a major public relations mess.
It all started innocently enough. On Friday, the Pittsburgh Penguins publicly thanked the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau for sponsoring rally towels for the fans. But it soon backfired, angry Lightning fans felt betrayed, and sparked a #BoycottBradenton movement on Twitter.
Elliott Falcione, the head of the Bradenton Area CVB said, “I felt bad that I didn’t think it all the way through.”
Falcione said he and he alone made the choice to spend $6,000 out of the bureau’s budget to put that logo on 20,000 towels. He said during the Penguins-Capitals series, Penguins officials reached out to him with an offer for ad space on their rally towels for Game 1. At the time, it hadn’t been determined that the Lightning would play at that game.
“If you want to buy it you need to react quickly,” said Falcione.
The two cities have a flourishing relationship. Bradenton is spring training home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the Bradenton Marauders are an affiliate of the Pirates. The Bradenton River Regatta also has close ties to the Pittsburgh Three Rivers Regatta.
Officials point out that from 2014 to 2015, there was a 37 percent growth in visitors from the Pittsburgh area. So Falcione thought the ad buy was a wonderful opportunity. He didn’t realize the problem until the game on Friday night.
He said, “Quite candidly I was watching the Penguin/Lightning game, not thinking of anything about it and all of a sudden our social media lines lit up.”
Falcione said he is solely responsible for this. He said, “It doesn’t represent my staff, it doesn’t represent the residents of Bradenton nor the governments of Bradenton.”
He added, “I wholeheartedly respect the passion that the Tampa fans have, the residents of Bradenton, but don’t let one guy’s decision stop people from coming and visiting this great Bradenton area.”
This was all the buzz at the Fan-Atics sports bar. It’s a Bradenton business that caters to Pittsburgh fans. Bartender Megan Pearson said, “Its ok to be upset, I think the emotion is kinda put towards the wrong outlet.”
The folks at Fan-Atics think any publicity is good publicity for the area.
Bartender Miki Curtis said, “It’s building the rivalry between Pittsburgh and Tampa which is fun.”
Officials emphasize these towels were only for game 1. They will not be released again. And they don’t plan any other big ad campaigns for the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I can promise you we won’t do it again,” Falcione said. “You can’t be selfish and just try to generate visitation numbers to your area. You have to have community balance. You have to have a pulse of your community.”
It’s important to note in the past two years, tourism officials spent $200,000 to support the Lightning, that’s compared to $60,000 they’ve spent for the Penguins.
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