When I arrived in Nashville about five years ago, and went to my first Predators game I wasn’t expecting much. I’m from the North, and I figured the South would know more about NASCAR than skating around an ice rink. When I went to the game, though, I was happy to see just how wrong I was. Bridgestone Arena was a sea of gold. Everywhere I looked there were fans sporting jerseys of their hometown NHL team.
A Young Team
The NHL was built before the Great Depression. Many teams have rich histories running back well before I (or my folks for that matter) were born. The Predators are just now old enough to drive, having recently completed their sixteenth season. Their results in that time has been remarkably average. After struggling for their first five season, the Preds finally made the playoffs for the first time in the ’03-’04 season. In total, the Preds have made the playoffs 8 of 16 times. In a perfectly balanced league (every team has an equal chance of making the playoffs), they would have made the playoffs about 8.63 times in that span. While they have done fine in the regular season, their playoff performance has been disappointing. Nashville only advanced to the second round of the playoffs twice in those eight opportunities, losing there each time. How is a team to acquire playoff experience if it can’t win playoff series? On a longer scale, can a team be considered successful with this kind of playoff record?
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Middling results notwithstanding, the team continues to garner high levels of community support. Ranking teams by attendance is tricky since some teams post >100% attendance records (someone must be lying about capacity, or else the fire marshal may have something to say about too many fans in the stadium), but Nashville fans fill out Bridgestone Arena with regularity, especially over the past five seasons.
Bridgestone Arena seats just over 17,000 fans and hosts numerous events year round. In addition to the Preds, it has been the home to numerous college basketball tourneys, an AFL team, pro-wrestling, boxing, bull-riding events, and countless musical events and award shows. But it hasn’t always been this way.
— Arena Digest (@arenadigest) January 2, 2015
In 2012, a report was issued (pdf) discussing the economic impact of Bridgestone Arena to Nashville. The city had poured money into it and even offered $20 million to land a long-term professional sports team. Ownership of the stadium changed a few times before becoming the Bridgestone Arena it is today. But more importantly, the team nearly left around 2006-2007 to Ontario due to declining attendance (see the above figure) and operating losses. The city was losing money and was thinking about cutting its losses.
Related: An undated Canadian article c. 2007 claims that the Hamilton Predators open for business.
A group of local business people put together an effort to bring the community back behind the Predators. With a big enough boost in season ticket sales, the Hamilton Predators were relegated to trivia and alternate timelines. While the company that ended up buying the arena would eventually fail to make payments and shutdown under FBI and IRS investigations, the turnaround had already happened in the minds of Nashville residents. The team won a playoff series in each of ’10-’11 and ’11-’12 seasons. Attendance jumped up to near capacity every year and downtown Nashville, the “Lower Broadway” sector, has seen a significant boost in business.
People forget that prior to the construction of the arena and knowing we had the Preds, lower Broadway was a ghost town.
Bridgestone and the Predators Today
Since 2010, Bridgestone Arena has regularly been in the top ten arenas in the country based on total ticket sales. This beneficial arrangement goes in multiple directions. The Preds draw fans which accounts for the majority of the tickets sold at the arena, helping keep it successful. From there, the city can continue to spend money on renovations because of the benefits to the businesses on Broadway. With those businesses’ success and the revitalization of the downtown district, big name acts and other sporting events are excited about Bridgestone.
20 years ago Nashville was being compared to Little Rock, Charlotte and Austin. Now we’re measured against New Orleans, Los Angeles, Orlando and Dallas.
Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly common public perception that using public money for stadiums is a lost cause.
Related: Braves Break Ground on Baseball Boondoggle and other stories therein.
The Predators wouldn’t be where they are today without the arena and investments from the city of Nashville and numerous private organizations who saw, unlike myself, that Nashville could support an NHL team. And in return Nashville gets one of the top performance venues in the country and a thriving set of bars, restaurants, and honky-tonks.