Florida Panthers CEO On Parkland Shooting Town Hall: ‘We’re Here For You With Whatever Resources You Need’

BB&T Center
Florida Panthers
– BB&T Center
in Sunrise, Fla.

The Florida Panthers and BB&T Center played critical roles in helping the Broward County community recover from the tragic murders of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 in Parkland, Fla. 

The NHL arena played host to a CNN Town Hall on Wednesday night, attended by about 4,500 survivors and their families. They spent about two hours with Florida legislators Marco Rubio, Bill Nelson and Ted Deutsch to discuss potential solutions for preventing further attacks.

Last night, the Panthers players remembered the victims by wearing a jersey patch and helmet sticker with the school’s initials at their first home game following the tragedy. The game drew a crowd of 15,312. The Panthers will wear the shoulder patch for the remainder of the regular season, team officials said.

In addition, arena staff working last night’s Capitals-Panthers game wore T-shirts printed with the high school logo, and the team organized a blood drive outside the arena, which started at noon and ended at 7:30 PM, when the game started. The Panthers held a pregame ceremony and moment of silence to pay tribute to the 17 students and adults killed. The team sold $10 patches with the school initials at the arena’s retail store, matching an equal amount for every patch sold. All proceeds go to a fund set up for the victims’ families. The NHL is doing the same thing in a separate effort, said Panthers President/CEO Matthew Caldwell.The mobilization for the Town Hall began moments after the incident on Valentine’s Day, when team executives were first notified of an active shooter at a local high school. The team has strong ties with local police and the Broward County Sheriff’s Department and the arena has played a key role in other crisis situations.

BB&T Center
Courtesy Florida Panthers
– BB&T Center
home of the Florida Panthers NFL Team

Last year, BB&T Center served as a staging area for emergency services personnel working to restore power to Greater Fort Lauderdale after Hurricane Irma swept through the community.

After the shootings, Caldwell told authorities: “We’re here for you with whatever resources you need.”

On that particular day, the Panthers were in Vancouver to play the Canucks, but the players were thinking about what was going on back home in south Florida. Many of them live in Parkland, and although none of them had kids attending Stoneman, several of their neighbors do, Caldwell said. At Rogers Arena in Canada, the Canucks held a moment of silence for the victims while the Panthers were still processing the tragedy and trying to make sense of what happened, Caldwell said.

CNN first contacted the local school board last weekend for scheduling the Town Hall. The bulk of planning took place early this week. Over a span of 48 hours, arena officials worked closely with the cable network and the school board to organize the event, said Tom Embrey, BB&T Center’s vice president of event operations and security.

“The load-in was on Sunday night and we basically had Monday and Tuesday to put it all together,” Embrey said.

The Panthers, in conjunction with Stoneman officials, issued Town Hall invitations to select students, families and teachers to participate in the meeting. Everyone received a link to print their free tickets on the Ticketmaster website. The participants filled most of the lower bowl. The rest of the arena was shut down for the event.

“The national issue of gun violence obviously creates a lot of emotion and a lot of people wanted to be there,” Caldwell said. “It was a tough decision- making process [to determine who would be invited to attend]. We tried to neutral [and] to be there for the community to provide a platform. Our role is to be a civic center, to be there for Broward County.”

The Town Hall setup was held on the arena floor with a stage at midcourt. CNN’s Jake Tapper moderated the event, managing the dialogue between the politicians, students and parents. All 17 victims were recognized on the center-hung video board, a process that was repeated last night at the Panthers game. The Panthers employed more than 100 workers for the Town Hall, including part-time parking attendants, ushers and ticket-takers.CNN covered the costs of its production and the Panthers picked up operating expenses on their end, Caldwell said.

“It was our ability to be flexible and be one with the community,” Embrey said. “This tragedy hit home with all of us and we wanted to be part of it.”