Nashville, Tennessee, the heart of SEC football, may not seem like the ideal market for a professional hockey team, at least that’s what many thought when the NHL decided to expand there in 1999. Why would there be any optimism about this team? There had never really been an NHL team in the south before the season, so in an area dominated by football, why would a hockey team have success? The team struggled on the ice to begin the season, as many expected, as did attendance at the games. It was clear that something needed to change.
On Ice Success Was the Key
That first step of change took place during the 2003-2004 season when the Predators snuck into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. As seen above, attendance was at an all-time low and there was a lot of talk of the team being relocated to Toronto. The Predators quickly became the talk of the town in Nashville as the city gathered behind their team during the playoffs. It was a perfect culmination of the first on ice success combined with a real reason for fans to back a team and prove they were important to the city of Nashville. Although they were eliminated quickly in the playoffs, going to Predators’ games started to become the new thing to do when in Nashville.
NHL Lockout Almost Ended the “Southern” Hockey Experiment
Things definitely took a serious hit the next season as the NHL lockout led to the entire 2004-2005 season being canceled. This certainly provided a difficult obstacle for the Predators as it remained to be seen if the momentum from last season would be carried on after a year with no hockey. This question was quickly answered as the Predators made the playoffs again and attendance increased significantly.
This was just the beginning of a long period of success for the team as they qualified for the playoffs for the playoffs four of the next five seasons. Attendance began to take a little bit of a decline though as the Predators could never seem to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Finally, in 2011 the Predators advanced out of the first round and attendance skyrocketed and reached an all-time high in 2012.
Even in a lockout shortened 2013 campaign the Predators averaged one of the highest attendance per game seasons in franchise history. A real testament to Predator’s fans loyalty can be seen between 2011 and 2012 when total NHL attendance took a loss of 22%, while the Predators saw an increase of 3.4%. This is really an incredible statistic and it really shows that Nashville is more than capable of having a professional hockey team.
Hockey with a Dixieland Twist
Today it is definitely fair to say that the Nashville Predators are one of the main attractions in the city of Nashville. Long time Predator’s TV analyst Terry Crisp said it best:
“Canadians treat hockey like a religion because Canadians believe they invented the sport, which they basically did. But when you treat hockey like a religion, the atmosphere is the same, like going to church.”
That’s just not what Nashville is about, plain and simple. Whether it’s the countless number of chants during the game, the great bar scene and nightlife located right outside of Bridgestone Arena, or just having a good night at the game with a group of friends, the Predators have created a great opportunity to provide the sport of hockey a place where many thought it wouldn’t be possible. If you’ve never experienced a game at Bridgestone, give it a try, you certainly won’t regret it.
This blog post was written by Samord University student Brian Horncastle