Bradenton CVB director issues apology

- After a public apology Monday for a tweet that managed to shake the Bay Area with the force of 10,000 Lightning fans, the executive director of Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau also confessed he is a Pittsburgh native and Penguin's fan. 

He added, however, the deal to produce branded materials for Penguins fans happened before he knew the Lightning would play the team in the Eastern Conference Final.

It started Saturday with a tweet from the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team, giving a shout-out to Visit Bradenton, including a photo of two Pens fans holding a yellow rally towel, reading "LET'S GO PENS." Underneath, the logo and website for the Bradenton visitors bureau was printed.

Shortly after the tweet went live, Tampa Bay Lightning fans used #BoycottBradenton while expressing their apparent disgust with the marketing campaign. 

The next morning, the visitors bureau issued an apology, but fans still seemed to be upset.  

"I spontaneously made the decision," said Bradenton Area Convention and Visitor's Bureau's executive director, Elliott Falcione. "I felt bad. I never thought of that."

While publicly claiming responsibility for the PR nightmare Monday, Falcione added, "I am not going to stand here and lie to you. I'm a Pittsburgh Pirate fan, Steelers fan, Penguin fan. It's in my blood."

Falcione also said loyalty to his hometown teams is not why he decided to sponsor the towels. The reason, he said, was to bring tourism to the Bay Area.

Pittsburgh and Bradenton have a close-knit relationship. For decades, the Pirates' spring training has been in Bradenton. 

Falcione said the Pittsburgh Penguins approached him during round two of the playoffs, as they were about to beat the Washington Capitals. The team had some space on its towel for advertising, and Falcione thought it would be a great way to show off the Bradenton area.

He said he did not consider the Penguins would face the Lightning during the Eastern Conference Final.

"I never thought of that. I don't know why I didn't think of that. We are in a run-and-gun business," he said.

Tourism tax dollars - $6,000 worth - were spent to produce 20,000 towels. 

The Bradenton visitors bureau, however, has a history of supporting the Tampa Bay Lightning, as well. They've spent more than $20,000 in advertising with the Bolts over the past two years. It also partners with other NHL teams, like the Dallas Stars.

That being the case, Falcione vowed a mistake like this will never be repeated.

"I didn't think it all the way through... You have to have a pulse of your community. The last thing [you] want to do is go up against passionate sports teams in your area," he said. 

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