Although I also loved Major League Baseball, NFL football and NCAA basketball growing up on Lawn Guyland, New Yawk, I definitely was a major NHL hockey fan.
Since my dad never really enjoyed watching sports on TV, I consumed as many games as I could get on our three network TV stations (ABC, CBS & NBC) and the two local stations that carried NY Yankees and Mets home games (Channels 9 & 11), and had to pick my own favorite teams in each sport since he could care less about any of them.
My favorite NHL team when I was a kid was the Montreal Canadiens, because they were not only the biggest team, but somehow, also the best skating team. Oh, and they also just happened to win 10 Stanley Cups between the mid-1960s and late 1970s, when I became a hockey fan. Even when the New York Islanders, who played their home games only 15-20 minutes from where I grew up, began their run of four Cups in a row between 1980-83, my love for “Les Habitants” never wavered.
That is, until I moved to Wesley Chapel in June 1993, when the Tampa Bay Lightning had just completed the team’s inaugural season in the league. I promised myself that I would no longer cheer for the Canadiens and would bring my young sons to as many Lightning games as I could — which wasn’t difficult during those early lean years, because great tickets at the Bolts’ original arena at the Florida State Fairgrounds went for like $10 apiece (or so).
Three years later, I even took Jared and Jake to both of the Lightning’s first-ever home playoff games at what was then called the Thunderdome (now Tropicana Field) in St. Petersburg, including the franchise’s first-ever home playoff win — a thrilling 5-4 overtime squeaker over the Philadelphia Flyers in 1996. The Bolts lost that series 4 games to 2, but both of my sons (including then-4-year-old Jake) got a legitimate taste of what playoff hockey is all about. In fact, after Tampa Bay won its first of now-three Stanley Cups in 2004, both of my boys gave up other sports to play high school hockey for Wharton High.
Unfortunately, the apartment complex where Jannah and I currently live only has Frontier cable and we stopped being able to watch Lightning games at home in the middle of the season a couple of years ago — during the Bolts’ run towards the team’s third Cup in 2021— when Bally Sports (which was then called Bally Sports Sun, or maybe Fox Sports Sun) and Frontier couldn’t come to an agreement over carriage fees. Jannah — who is now a full-on Lightning fan, too — and I had to go to local bars with Spectrum cable or satellite to watch the Bolts’ run to the 2021 Cup, as we could only afford tickets to one of those playoff games.
It wasn’t until sometime in 2022, when someone told us that we could now stream Bally on our Roku device, that we were able to resume watching our favorite team at home again — and we also became partial season ticket holders the same year. And, even though the Bolts didn’t get to hoist Lord Stanley’s goblet a third year in a row, we loved both attending games and watching the others as often as possible in the comfort of our own living room.
And, while I have never really jumped on or fully embraced the Tampa Bay Rays bandwagon after hockey ends each year, since Jannah isn’t a baseball fan at all, we kept paying for Bally during last year’s hockey offseason, mainly because I didn’t want to go through the hassle of having to sign up again when the 2023-24 hockey season began a few weeks ago.
All was right with our hockey world as the new season began, but sometime in late October, it appeared that we somehow got locked out of our log-in for Bally. It felt like 2021 all over again. My ever-resourceful wife got on her “Tampa Bay Lightning Fans” Facebook page and saw other people complaining about having the same problem. Had Bally decided to lock out those who were streaming — and paying $29.99 a month for the privilege — its “service?” If so, what could we do about it?
As it turned out, no, that wasn’t the case. Although we never got any notice about it — or Heaven help us, will we see any kind of refund for the three or four Bolts games we missed because of it — Bally simply had some kind of outage on its own end. That outage lasted more than a week and here’s the kicker — none of the barrage of emails I had received from Bally as our streaming subscriber ever mentioned the outage or even offered a customer service phone number for me to call to complain.
Instead, I had to find a customer service phone number for Bally on Google and when I called, during the first period of the Bolts’ 6-4 win over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 4, I agreed to the option of being called back, instead of continuing to wait on hold, after the first period ended. Big mistake! Instead of calling me back before the game ended, I finally got a call back from Bally (at 12:35 a.m.) and the polite customer service rep asked me if I was watching Bally at the time.
“The game ended three hours ago,” I said, “I’ve actually been asleep, so no, I’m not watching my TV now.”
Well, I decided to go to my TV so the rep could get me hooked back up, so I guess “All’s well that ends well.” I asked the rep if there was a survey I could take after the call ended, “because I’ve got a doozy for you.” When she said I would have to hang up and call back to do so, I decided that telling this story in these pages might be a better way for me to express my…let’s say dissatisfaction…with Bally.