Lightning’s success generates all too much silence in the Tampa Bay sports media

There’s a outspoken and upset Florida Panthers fan who voiced their discontent with the Panthers organization in a post on Reddit’s hockey community. A mix of words invoked nostalgia and made me upset in my own fashion.

[…] At the start, things looked great. The team had great players in Scott Mellanby and John Vanbiesbrouck, took a Cinderella trip to the Finals which got all of Miami absolutely BUZZING in 1996, started a notable fan tradition of throwing rats, acquired a superstar in Pavel Bure, acquired future superstars Olli Jokinen and Roberto Luongo, had very great and notable players pass through here… […]

Ah, 1996! Yes, the Florida Panthers looked upright and had a future optimism shown in only their third season of play in the National Hockey Lague. But ’96 didn’t show a dim picture on the other coast of Florida. No, no, the 1995-96 Tampa Bay Lightning did something foreign in the Tampa Bay metroplex in the sporting sense of the term: They were a pro team that made the playoffs. It was the first time in 13 years that a top-level professional franchise in the Bay area had done that [author note: this isn’t an attempt to truly look pat the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team; soccer is not traditionally pitched as a top-four major sports league in the United States.] It was also the Lightning’s first-ever playoff appearance.

There was a sense of optimism and hope invoked in the local press coverage from WTVT, WFLA, WTSP, and WFTS. The St. Peterburg Times and Tampa Tribune did it too: The Tampa Bay Lightning was the sports team in Tampa Bay, and they were the entity to rally around. Brian Bradley, Mikael Andersson, Petr Klima, Paul Ysebaert;  with the future (or so it seemed at the time) franchise ties to Roman Hamrlik, Chris Gratton, Jason Weimer, and Rob Zamuer. All these (and so many more names that I’ve forgotten off the top of my head) and the last line of defense, the stalwart in goal #93 Darren Puppa.

The playoffs! Such a rare feat in this burg was being embraced by a local team and that generated a degree of local pride for sports fans. It was something accomplished by Tampa Bay and invoked such a good vibe, even if the Bolts were a one-and-done team in the 1996 NHL Playoffs  (the Philadelphia Flyers bounced the Bolts in the first round). Contention was such a foreign term and it was finally translated! Yessir! Yessir!

It seems foreign now, doesn’t it? No, I don’t mean contention. I’ve already written about that for the Bolts before this season. The Lightning themselves have proven it, night in and night out, through 76 games and the feats achieved.

I’m talking about coverage and the lack thereof from the traditional media people in town. There is no buzz. It’s not a priority. It’s filler.

 The Lightning aren’t just contending, they’re breaking records in the NHL, and it seems they’re blacklisted as the story of priority in Tampa Bay sports. Why?

On any given day on the Tampa Bay Times website, a sports-related story will be put into the prime spot on the main website. Just Sunday afternoon it was about a tint-intent of the Tropicana Field roof. Days ago it was about Tiger Woods and his non-participation in one local golf foray or another. At any given time a Tampa Bay Buccaneers story – off-field, on-field, history lessons, or wishful-thinking opinion pieces – goes to that prime spot ahead of national or local news of note for that day…

It’s the same thing with the Sports page specifically – every other type of sport gets priority while the NHL and Tampa Bay Lightning are background-noise. Tonight (March 25) is the second-to-last home game of the season, one of high caliber as the Lightning face the Boston Bruins who are in second place in the Atlantic Division and second place in the Eastern Conference. It’s a major challenge for the Lightning in their quest for 60 wins in the season.

The priority in coverage that was on WFLA News Channel 8, the NBC affiliate, is college basketball and March Madness. The priority on WFTS ABC 28 Action News is the Tampa Bay Rays dome lights. WTSP Channel 10, affiliated with CBS, clings to March Madness (Author note: Not able to post a web archive link or take an archive image). WTVT Fox 13 prioritized the retirement of a New England Patriots player.

Being network stations, they’re influenced by their respective networks. The local sports departments do have a hand in what gets covered, they just have opted for other things than Lightning hockey (in this instance of whee I looked at the sites and in all too many during this remarkable NHL season).

And then there’s the Tampa Bay Times, the only print newspaper in the Tampa Bay area. The Tampa Bay Rays uber alles on the Times sports section, with hype as the lead sports-page story and start-of-season shenanigans and general coverage as the lead stories.

As Tampa Bay could be buzzing for tonight’s game or for the general accomplishments of Tampa Bay Lightning hockey, fans who check out the aforementioned sources are sent away to other sports on the national priority list, or sent to potential optimism of a sports team whose season is only just starting.

There is a buzz out there; the population is aware of the Lightning and what they’re doing. 19,000+ attend games at Amalie Arena consistently while many more watch from home or while out at the sports bars and watch parties. This local team is making history on a nightly basis. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin oh-so-soon and the local population will proudly stand with the Bolts as they vie or the Chalice of Lord Stanley.

The buzz, the hype, the hope, the sports-history that’s been accomplished…? It’s background noise to general sports in the Tampa Bay media, and that’s one grand shame. By way of it, you’d think there’s nothing to be proud of when it’s quite the opposite instead.

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