Saturday, April 21, 2012

Au Revoir, Ailes Rouges

As the Predators...ahem...move onto the second round, here's a parting shot to the Red Wings and their fans:

Winning the cup 11 times in 86 years means that you've failed to win it 75 times. And 7 of those Stanley Cups came when there were only 6 teams in the league and it only took 8 wins to claim it. The self-imposed "dynasty" tag is really nothing more than a smokescreen to hide the 40 years the team sucked from the 50s to the 90s. Congratulations on the TWO cups you've won in the modern era of 30 NHL teams. You deserved those, and you've had a very good team over the past decade. But your time is finished. Your supposed "dynasty" is over. Your players are old and your franchise has a bleak future, as the rest of the Central Division (except for Columbus) has passed you by. Goodbye, Detroit. Don't let the Bridgestone Arena door hit you in the butt.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sommet Remains Black Eye For Predators

In 2007, Sommet Group, with its pastel green and blue stick-man logo, popped up seemingly out of nowhere to put its name on the downtown arena at a time when the Nashville Predators desperately needed sponsorship.

"What is a Sommet and how do you pronounce it?" was my initial thought. At the time, I had been living in Alabama for two years and figured that my knowledge of Nashville was beginning to fall behind the times, and that this "Sommet" was a major player in my hometown. As it turns out, people all over Middle Tennessee had the same questions.

Right around the time we all figured out how to say the name and began to surmise what they did (simply put, Sommet Group provided back-office support for small businesses‒—sometimes), the Predators sued Sommet in November 2009 for non-payment, and the Sommet name was abruptly removed from the arena in early 2010, a few months shy of the length of the term. Curiously, though, the Sommet name remained elsewhere in the arena, even on the dasherboards through the 2010 season.

A few months later, Sommet's offices in Cool Springs were raided by the FBI and the company was effectively shut down. The Predators turned around and whistled as if nothing had ever happened, washing its hands of the one-time partnership.

Today, we learned that the scumbag leaders of this company were indicted on Federal charges of fraud, theft, and money laundering. Among their alleged crimes: 
The Whitfields committed wire fraud, including stealing from an employee pension plan, to pay $254,535 toward their arena naming-rights obligations. 
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, their employees' pension plans paid for the naming rights of the arena.

Here's a brilliant idea... let's commit fraud and launder the money to make our name WIDELY known!

I mean, seriously... the writing was on the wall. A small B2B company with a tiny leased office in Cool Springs suddenly has the money to plaster its name across a major sports arena. Did no one with the Predators analyze this? Or did they just not care?

Sommet's name remained on the boards
even after Bridgestone had taken over
the arena naming rights.
Photo: self-taken, March 23, 2010
The deal was inked in May 2007, on just a three-year term. Three years is breathtakingly small for a major naming rights agreement, but the thought that the Predators would even be in the arena in 2010 was, frankly, a pipedream. The team was all but gone at that point. Whether Boots Del Biaggio was moving it to Kansas City or Jim Balsillie was taking our talents to Hamilton, the team simply wouldn't be in Nashville after the 2007-08 season. Everybody knew it. Craig Leipold certainly knew he wouldn't be around much longer. (He announced a week later he was selling the team to Balsillie.) Taking Sommet's money was a quick-fix cash-grab. It was a band-aid. The risk was worth taking, because the ones who made the deal wouldn't even be around to see it through.

We all know the rest of the story: how Boots is in jail, how Balsillie has lost control of his company, how the Preds were saved by local businessmen, how Bridgestone became our new favorite tire, and how <ahem> golden the Predators have become, both on and off the ice... but every time this Sommet story rears its ugly head, one cannot help but think of the arena downtown‒—and by proxy, the Predators‒—and how sad and sordid the Sommet affair really was.

Friday, December 30, 2011

What if?

I was watching something on ESPN the other night about the SEC Championship Game. The question was asked: "What if Antonio Langham hadn't intercepted that pass in the 1992 SEC Championship Game and returned it for a touchdown?" The consensus was that the SECCG would have cost Alabama a shot at the National Title, and none of the other conferences would be willing to take the risk of starting their own. The layout of college football today would be vastly different.

So, this led me to think about some "What Ifs" concerning Nashville sports. Please note that, as written, all of these situations are independent of each other.

What if the Minnesota Timberwolves had indeed moved to Nashville in 1997?

  • The Timberwolves move to Nashville, giving Nashville Arena a full-time NBA tenant.
  • The National Hockey League no longer sees Nashville as a favorable location for an expansion team, and can't find a fourth city to build a new arena and round out the planned expansion, so they cut out Columbus and expand only to Atlanta and Minnesota, leaving the league with 28 teams.
  • The Vancouver Grizzlies continue to struggle in Western Canada, but see the now-NBAless Twin Cities as a much more viable relocation destination than moving a second team into Tennessee. Memphis has no new arena, and no NBA team.
  • Nashville never falls in love with the Predators, of course, but with our sense of civic pride, we rally behind our Wolves and become a successful NBA market. Nashville still hates Detroit, but the ire is directed squarely at the Pistons instead.

What if the New Jersey Devils had moved to Nashville?

  • Nashville gets the Devils, but the Southern Baptist Convention stages a protest against the team's name.
  • The NHL expands to 30 teams, granting franchises to Atlanta, Columbus, Minnesota, and New Jersey. The potential of a replacement New Jersey franchise is met with much protest from the owners of the Rangers and Islanders, and the NHL instead decides to place that new franchise in Kansas City.

What if former Houston mayor Bob McNair had given Bud Adams a new stadium?

  • Houston builds a new, larger, football-only Astrodome, next door to the existing one. It does not have a retractable roof. It is given the nickname "The Oil Rig".
  • The Astros do not get their new stadium downtown and leave for the greener pastures of Northern Virginia.
  • Several years later, Houston relents and decides to build a new stadium for the Montreal Expos, who MLB decides to move to the original Astrodome until the new digs are ready.
  • Because there is no viable owner, and the market is not seen as large or sophisticated enough, Nashville is never even sniffed as a viable location for the new expansion team that would give the NFL 32 franchises, and the NFL returns instead to Los Angeles.
  • "Music City Miracle" never enters the lexicon, and Steve McNair never meets Sahel Kazemi.
  • Nashville builds a shiny new minor league ballpark for the Sounds on the east bank of the Cumberland River, on an old bargeyard between the Woodland Street & Shelby Street bridges.

Conversely, what if "NFL Yes" had failed?
  • No stadium would have been built in Nashville.
  • The Predators would be the only major pro sports franchise in Nashville, and would have sold out every single game since the team's inception. Craig Leipold never sells the team, and the people of Nashville still consider buying BlackBerry devices.

What if Gus Malzahn said yes to Vanderbilt's offer?

  • They would still suck.

Feel free to add your own What If questions (and answers, if you wish) in the comments below. It's an interesting conversation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

ESPN: Trolling Hard

As seen at the :30 mark of the video
ESPN recently upgraded its college basketball graphics package for the first time in a few years, and I must say, it looks impressive.

Whenever they overhaul an on-air look, they usually produce a video featuring the theme song and an exhibition of the graphics in action, as they would appear on a broadcast.

For a split second on the video, at the :30 mark, the headline "Boeheim to join Krzyzewski's Staff" is visible on-screen.

I know people are calling for Jim Boeheim to be fired in the wake of the Bernie Fine scandal, but under no circumstances would I ever expect him to become an assistant on Coach K's staff. Of course, this was done just to show off the graphics, and nothing more, but what an interesting choice of fake headline.

Nice trolling, ESPN.


Video source: Graphics Mafia

Happy Fifteenth, Bridgestone Arena

On this day in 1996, the Nashville Arena opened to the public to great fanfare. On a Sunday afternoon, Mayor Bredesen cut the ribbon and invited area residents to tour the mostly-completed facility. There were no tenants for the building yet, but we had a general feeling that a basketball or hockey team would somehow find its way here. The New Jersey Devils had been flirting with Nashville before settling on a lease extension at The Meadowlands; and the same was true with the Minnesota Timberwolves, who used Nashville as leverage to get a better lease at Target Center.

On the concourse, around the area where the Predators Radio Network does its pregame & intermission reports, there was a Nintendo 64 set up with kids taking turns playing "Wayne Gretzky's All-Star Hockey", billed then as the first hockey games ever played at Nashville Arena. People were encouraged to fold paper airplanes and launch them from the upper deck. If one happened to land in the sunroof of a car at the center of the arena floor, the thrower would win the car. Elsewhere, locals were able to explore everything from the seating bowl, concourses, luxury suites, tunnels, and locker rooms.

Over the years, the arena has had various names associated with various sponsors. Gaylord Entertainment took the reins in 1999, at a time when many Nashvillians openly resented the company for closing Opryland less than two years earlier. Gaylord had part-ownership of the Predators at the time, and owning the naming rights seemed like a good fit. Except it wasn't. This was before Gaylord had expanded its hotel offerings beyond Nashville (the company now has 3 additional hotels; one each in Florida, Texas, and Maryland), and the corporate name carried no weight anywhere but here--where most people hated the company! Add to that, nobody seemed to know if it was the "Gaylord Entertainment" "Center", or the "Gaylord" "Entertainment Center". Where should the emphasis be? Crap...we don't know. Let's just call it "The Geck". Gaylord sold its interest in the Predators and stopped paying the team its annual naming rights fees in 2005, and after a lawsuit or two, Gaylord's name was finally taken off the arena in 2007, whereas the arena reverted to its default name: Nashville Arena.

Out of nowhere, Sommet Group snatched up the rights in 2007, around the same time as the Predators ownership upheaval. Sommet? Who? It seemed nobody could pronounce the name of the company (so-MAY, so it was), and we sure as hell couldn't identify what the company did. Apparently, Sommet Group was a Cool Springs-based company that provided a variety of services to small businesses, from human resource management to IT support. Personally, I wondered how such a small, unknown company could afford such a thing as arena naming rights (then again, there's always In early 2010, Sommet was raided by the FBI for fraud. Shocker. The Preds wound up with a major egg on its face.

Then along came Bridgestone. A name you know. A name you trust. Except for that exploding-tire fiasco in the 1990s, Bridgestone has maintained a pretty good reputation, even if their TV commercials are awful. "Bridgestone Arena" is a name that caught on extremely quickly in the city. It's hard to believe it's only been 20 months since that change occurred. But today, on the arena's fifteenth anniversary, Bridgestone has extended its naming rights agreement through 2019.

It's good to have a local corporate citizen with a recognizable name sponsoring our arena, even if we don't have a cutesy nickname for the building now. "The Bridge"? "The Stone"? What do we call it? If Bridgestone had its way, and it seems they do, we'll just keep calling it by its full name, Bridgestone Arena, for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A new beginning...

Third time's the charm... we hope.

Hey guys, I'm back. Hopefully I'll have the gumption to stick with it this time.

Oh, and I've finally come up with a name for this thing that I actually like: Hang Up & Listen. If you don't get the reference, here's a quick lesson. Sports radio callers in Nashville suck, for the most part. There are some shows that are exceptions: 3HL, Thom Abraham & Men's Room. But the callers on the other ones are awful. They call in, ask an obvious generic question about a major topic that's already been hashed over about three dozen times in the past hour, then say, "I'll hang up and listen." Every time. Nobody wants to talk. Nobody has an opinion. You know what? You, Nashville sports radio caller, make sports talk radio awful. You do. If you have a question about sports, for God's sake, Google it. You'll find the answer, I promise.

(Speaking of Nashville sports radio, this actually happened at the Preds game tonight while a video about Bridgestone Arena's history played on the Megatron...

I wonder if it was done on purpose. I tend to think it was. After all, George should be on 102.5 sometime in March.)

Anyway...rant over... I want to promise you up front that I won't be posting every day. Some days may have multiple posts. Some may have none. I'm going to write when I have something to say this time, and I'm not going to stress over a lack of content. If there's nothing driving me to write about it, then I won't write about anything.

So, have I set the bar low enough? LOL.

I got a lot of positive comments on Twitter, in person, and in the blog comments section about things I posted in the first couple of incarnations. Most of those posts survive below, if you want to read them. I certainly thank each and every one of you for the encouragement, and I hope to continue entertaining you with my ramblings.

Thanks, guys, and enjoy Hang Up & Listen.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I went bowling.

Let me pause from the normal focus of this blog to remember the tragedies that befell upon our nation ten years ago. I wrote this several years ago for my MySpace page, and every year, I re-read it and re-post it in some form of social media. I will also update it, but only if needed. I chose not to update it this year.

May we never forget.

-Zack Bennett, 9/11/11


I went bowling. It was a pretty good score for me, if I remember correctly. I don't really. I wasn't paying attention to the game. Maybe that's why it was such a good score. They say that you do better at sports like bowling and golf if you don't focus on the task at hand. But there I was, at the Family Fun Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. It was 2:00pm on the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

I had to go bowling. Well, I didn't HAVE to, but I did. I was enrolled in a bowling class. I was three weeks into my first semester at MTSU as a Junior transfer. We were all scared, all in shock. The drama of that day was six hours old and nobody really knew what to do. I remember earlier in the day going to Breadbreak at Raiders For Christ and discussing it with people I barely knew. At that point (about three hours earlier), I didn't know just how severe it was. But by the time I went bowling, it was real.

Those of us who came to the bowling alley were watching the televisions above the lanes, not really caring much about the game. Fresh news was coming in, along with erroneous reports of more attacks. We heard of car bombs outside CIA headquarters. We heard of bombs going off in shopping malls. None of it was true, but we didn't know that. At that point, anything was possible. My dad told me to find the nearest fallout shelter. We were worried about getting nuked.

By that night, we knew that the world was going to change in a hurry. I remember going to my night class and watching Bush's speech on TV, and then later spending the evening with some people I barely knew at Raiders for Christ. We had heard news reports of the repercussions, including how much the cost of gasoline was expected to rise the next day. There were reports that we'd be paying (gasp!) $3.00 a gallon. We look back and laugh at that now, but that was a big worry that day.

The experiences of that day will never be forgotten. One day, I'll tell my children about that day and what it felt like. But they'll never understand. I'm worried that it won't even secure a prominent place in American history. It's only been nine years, and it's almost like we only want to either sweep it under a rug or use it as fodder in political arguments. There was a History Channel special that debuted in 2008, called "102 Minutes That Changed America", that didn't even show the footage of either plane striking the buildings. It was the most filmed event in world history, and nobody wants us to see it anymore. When was the last time you saw it on TV? Think about it. I bet you can't remember. That, to me, says a lot about the state of denial in which our country still lives.

We didn't just lose 4 airplanes, two skyscrapers, and a chunk of the Pentagon. We lost roughly 3,000 friends and neighbors, and as former British PM Tony Blair said, they could have killed 70,000 and rejoiced just the same. We can't forget the evil we saw that day.

As the day goes on, we'll probably all share our stories from that day, and whenever anyone asks me what I did on 9/11, I'll tell them I went bowling.