NHL's Lightning takes home-ice advantage to new level

While sports franchises have always looked to maximize their home advantage, the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning has kicked it up a notch during this year's playoffs.

Chicago Blackhawks against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.
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Chicago Blackhawks against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.

The Stanley Cup finalist, which tied the best-of-seven games series against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, has limited ticket sales to Florida state credit cards through its Ticketmaster page, leaving most visiting-team fans no choice but to buy tickets in the secondary market.

The Lightning also placed restrictions on what spectators in the Amalie Arena's priciest seats can wear: Fans sitting in the Chase Club and Lexus Lounge cannot wear opposing team colors.

These restrictions have led many, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to criticize the team, which is owned by The Tampa Bay Lightning is owned by former hedge fund executive Jeff Vinik, who once ran Fidelity's popular Magellan Fund.


"We wish the Tampa Bay Lightning management would welcome Chicago fans to their city and not be afraid to let them into their arena for the Stanley Cup finals," Emanuel said in astatement last week.

Nevertheless, ticket sales restrictions are not unprecedented, said Victor Matheson, a sports economics professor at College of Holy Cross. "This is extremely common in Europe for soccer games."

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Matheson added that soccer teams in the English Premier League, for example, will limit the number of tickets being sold to away team fans in order to prevent fans from well-known teams, such as Manchester United, to come in and buy out a stadium against a smaller team.

Chicago Blackhawks fans are well-known for flooding arenas during away games. Still, there might be another reason at play with regards to Tampa Bay's restrictions.

"Florida professional sports have a very poor reputation of selling out games with home team fans, so that's why you have the organization coming in and restricting sales," Matheson said.

Nevertheless, Lightning post-season games have all been sold out, a team spokesman said. The Lightning media office did not respond to a CNBC request for further comment.

Can teams do this?

Professional teams can, in fact, restrict ticket sales based on geography because they hold the sales licenses to every game, said Gene Egdorf, managing attorney at the Lanier Firm, a Houston-based law firm.

"It's unfair to Blackhawks fans, but I wouldn't run to the court and dispute this," Egdorf said, adding that these restrictions are a growing trend in U.S. professional sports.

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"Teams are more and more inclined to do this unless it hits [their] wallets."

The series continues Monday at 8 p.m. EDT In Chicago and will return to Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Lightning has won the Stanley Cup once, versus five wins for the Blackhawks.

Disclosure: CNBC's sister company, NBC Sports, is broadcasting the Stanley Cup Finals.