The St. Louis Blues are inviting their LGBTQ fans to the arena this season while the team is on the road. Apparently hockey is for everyone, as long as nobody is around.
For those outside of the LGBTQ community, it may seem trivial to care about whether professional sports teams hold Pride-themed nights. After all, every team hosts several ticket promotions throughout the season. What makes “Pride Night” different from “Star Wars Night?”
Well, unless there is an unexpected addendum to the series, Obi-Wan Kenobi never faced discrimination on the field, court or ice. Throughout history, sports have not been an accepting place for LGBTQ people, and that is still the reality today. A 2015 study found 80 percent of all participants said they witnessed or experienced homophobic behavior in sports.
Pride Nights signify sports are open to everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
That is why the Blues are being pilloried for scheduling their “Hockey is For Everyone” night — the NHL’s celebration of diversity and inclusion — for an evening later this month while the team isn’t in town. The event at Enterprise Arena is scheduled for March 24, when the Blues will be playing against the Capitals in Washington, D.C.
The club is branding the affair as a “Hockey is for Everyone Celebration and Watch Party,” with tickets costing $10 and proceeds benefitting unnamed “participating organizations.”
Many in the hockey community, including San Jose Sharks defenseman Joel Ward, are not impressed.
Though the event sounds like some sort of consolation prize, the Blues insist that’s not the case. There was just too much ticket demand following their Stanley Cup win, so they were forced to cut the number of promotional events, according to the team’s Vice President of Media and Brand communications, Mike Caruso.
“Due to unprecedented ticket demand and sales following last season’s success, we weren’t able to execute as many ticket promotions as we have in the past,” he told USA Today in an emailed statement. “However, instead of foregoing Hockey Is For Everyone completely, we wanted brainstorm ways to continue its application. That is where the idea of a watch party came in.”
So there you have it. “Love Your Melon” night made the cut, and “Hockey is for Everyone” did not. Sometimes difficult choices must be made. That’s the way it is.
In response to a follow up email from Outsports, Caruso implied the decision to remove “Hockey is for Everyone” from the home schedule was based on ticket demand and fan engagement.
“The 12 theme nights that we held were based on past ticket sales response, overall fan engagement and contracted sponsorship elements,” he wrote. “There were several theme nights and promotions that we had to forego due to a lack of ticket availability. One example is our school fundraiser program, but there are others as well. Our Hockey is for Everyone Watch Party is our effort to bring that message and event back into focus.”
In other words, the Blues deemed it important enough to host “Hockey is for Everyone” during an actual home game while the team was struggling for ticket sales, and needed to attract more people to the arena. But now they don’t need as many gimmicks, so inclusion gets placed on the back burner. Do you think “Rizzuto Night” makes room for itself?
Just two years ago, every NHL team hosted a Pride or Inclusion Night. Many teams do a terrific job with the promotion, such as the New Jersey Devils, who also held a panel discussion with LGBTQ voices prior to the game.
But the affinity for “Pride Night” doesn’t appear to stretch across the entire league. The Buffalo Sabres don’t have a home game “Hockey is for Everyone” on their home schedule, but told ESPN they intend to hold the event sometime in late-March. The Colorado Avalanche, meanwhile, came under scrutiny this week for marketing their “Pride Night” towards straight allies. In an email to Outsports, You Can Play President Brian Kitts — the organization partners with the NHL to promote the “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative — said Colorado wasn’t slighting its LGBTQ fans, but rather signifying there’s still a lot of work to be done, and highlighting the crucial role straight allies play in advancing LGBTQ rights.
But to the Avalanche’s credit, at least they welcomed LGBTQ fans to the arena while the team was in town. No matter how the Blues spin it, hosting “Hockey is for Everyone” on a road trip makes the promotion feel like a secondary thought.
If it was important, the team would be there for it.