09 August 2011
There was a small part of me that was listening for it - the squeak of a musical note that played when I took a step on Broadway. In many ways, I was searching for my own personal soundtrack to this trip. But I wasn’t in Nashville to check out the sounds that wafted out of the bars and venues. So forget the Listening Room, 3rd and Lindsley, and the Bluebird Café. Put aside the warm biscuits from the Loveless Café and step away from B&C BBQ. I was here to research the Predators organization and try to examine a few off ice items.
As I began to walk to the arena from my parking space, I couldn’t help but to think of the small group of hockey fans that always are quick to place the Predators on the fast track out of Nashville. When moving rumors surface in your first year of existence, I suppose the quick assumptions will never cease. One of the ways to potentially remove the target is for the Predators to win the Stanley Cup. Although if you examine the current Islanders situation, that might not help either.
In 1997 NHL commissioner Gary Bettman placed a new franchise in Nashville, Tennessee in hopes of building a southern hockey fan base. With the addition of the Predators, the league was hoping to bolster its southern lineup of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes. Out of the four new expansion teams awarded in 1997 (Atlanta, Minnesota, Nashville, & Columbus), the Predators were the easiest transition, given the fact that an arena was already in place. After taking care of things behind the scenes, the team officially broke into the league during the 1998-1999 season.
If you visit Bridgestone arena today, you’ll easily find why Nashville is in the top three best places to see a hockey game when considering surrounding amenities. A quick stroll down Broadway gives you plenty of food & drink arrangements before and after the game. If you feel like staying out when the game is over, you will be able to catch quite a few musicians giving it their all through the many bars on Broadway and 2nd Avenue. Need a few moments in a family friendly place? No problem. Mike’s Ice Cream a few blocks out from the arena will provide all the sugar your kids will need. Not willing to spend any more for the evening? Take a seat and enjoy the weather from the Nashville Music Garden across the street.
The one thing that I think deserves high praise is the partial closing of 5th Avenue South during important games. I’ve seen the Predators gear up the street in front of the area with nets and hay-bale shooting zones so that fans, parents, and kids can spend time together before the gates open. If you want the younger generations to embrace the game of hockey, you’re going to have to expose them to it in multiple ways. And while the shooting areas aren't the total solution, it allows some portion of personal interaction with the franchise.
If the National Hockey League is serious about drawing development plans for new arenas, they should heavily consider writing in a Nashville clause. Surrounding new arenas with restaurants, bars, and family zones will do wonders in keeping fans close. Some cities will have weather limitations but for the most part, you want to keep the area around the arena buzzing (not only for NHL games, but concerts/events as well). There are also places, like Carolina, where you have the tailgate atmosphere as the priority – which would nullify any surrounding development.
If there is an asterisk in any of the Nashville Predators discussion, it has to be the fact that the music industry acts as a foundation for the organization. Given the diverse music industry of the city, they will always need entertainment development within city limits. With that demand comes an arena to host all types of music and award shows. And since the Ryman and Grand Ole Opry are not viable options for large-scale events, the Predators can essentially rest easy knowing that there will always be a place to play in the city – thereby making this franchise immovable. Even though this is a team that is only 14 years old and has never won a championship, it makes absolutely no financial sense to move this team from the city of Nashville. As long as the National Hockey League and the music industry fall into a sibling type relationship, the Predators skate with the beat. Both industries will leverage each other to city officials to get any development they require.
In the Predators Skate With the Beat Part 2, I address the trickle effect and some of the graphic changes the franchise went through this summer.