Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Different Window of Opportunity

The Predhead shows off his new colors.
I am passionate about the Nashville Predators like I have never been about a sports team in my life. Part of that is due to the tight community of fans that I’ve become tuned into through various forms of social media over the past year. Another part is: I absolutely love the city of Nashville and almost everything about it. I take pride in the awesome things our city brings to the world, and the Preds are no different. This is Nashville’s team. This is the only major professional sports team that bears our city’s name. Sure, the Titans have a larger fan base and represent our city as well, but they focus on being a regional draw with the “Tennessee” name. I bet if you polled 10 NFL fans in another part of the country, at least 3 of them would say the Titans are located in Memphis. The Titans don't do a whole lot to associate themselves with the city.

On the other hand, the Predators are ours. They are proud to call Nashville home, and they went so far to prove that by putting piano keys, guitar strings, and a guitar pick on the new uniforms (that's a different post for a different day). They're a way we can reach out to the world and say, "Hey. This is our team. They play hockey, but they also represent what is so great about our city. They're classy. They're hard-working. Watch them play, and then come to visit, and you'll see why we love our city and our team."

Much has been made recently about the “window of opportunity”, pertaining to a competitive agenda, facing the Nashville Predators. With guys like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, and Pekka Rinne leading the team now, and the massive upside of guys like Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, and Sergei Kostitsyn (and don't forget Ryan Ellis) who are sure to step up their games as this team finds room to compete for a Stanley Cup.

But that’s not the window of opportunity I’m talking about. There is a gigantic open window for the Predators, and it looks out toward LP Field. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but the professional football team that calls that stadium home has run into a bit of turmoil lately.

All seemed well until that fateful week when the Titans were slated to play against the Washington Redskins in November. The Titans were on pace to make the playoffs, and all seemed well with the team. They acquired Randy Moss, to much fanfare. Then it all fell apart. Rapidly. Beginning that day, the Titans began to unravel. And that unraveling continues now. Whether or not they’ll be able to pick up the pieces remains to be seen, but even the most optimistic Titan fan will tell you that it's going to take a while. It started with Vince Young quitting on the team during that game, and led to the postgame fireworks in the locker room between Young and Jeff Fisher. Then, for two months, Titans fans began a civil war with each other as the losses piled up. Either you were “Team Vince”, or you were “Team Fisher”. Or, if you were like me, you were on “Team I Wish Both Of Them Would Be Gone.” (My team won, by the way.). Let us not forget that the team proceeded to do absolutely nothing with Moss (it reminds me of the way WCW treated Bret Hart), not that Moss had any reason to be excited to be there. The team kept losing. And losing. And losing. There was absolutely no leadership. Toward the end, it seemed as if they weren't even trying anymore, and they probably weren't. After the decision to cut Vince Young, and three weeks later, Jeff Fisher’s abrupt departure, we got to see that amazing press conference where WGFX’s Clay Travis sparred with Titans front office head honcho Steve Underwood. The Titans then hired an unproven head coach who filled out his staff with what seems to be an island of misfit toys (with the exception of Bruce Matthews), and then the NFL Lockout was on. The team drafted a quarterback with accuracy issues. Kenny Britt got arrested…multiple times. Kerry Collins called it a career.

Since that 1999 run to Super Bowl XXXIV, the Titans have been the 800-pound gorilla of Nashville sports, but it’s hard to find someone right now who is absolutely passionate about the state of the Tennessee NFL franchise. The old saying “hope springs eternal” may not be totally true. The Titans’ may need to go dig another hope well, because the current one is drying up. That’s where the Predators come in.

In hindsight, the timing couldn’t have been better. In the summer of 2010, the Predators brought in a new CEO (Jeff Cogen) and COO (Sean Henry). These master salesmen took an already-good product and made it better, both on-ice and off. The marketing strategy changed from a “hockey-first” pitch to a “Hey, come down to the arena and be a part of something fun” pitch. Did you notice the TV commercials for the Preds last season? Very few of them showed hockey players or on-ice action. Opposing teams were only mentioned in the tag at the end of the spots announcing the next home game. Instead, the focus was on the fans. You saw shots of Broadway before the games, and people cheering inside the arena. You saw people interacting with the Predators’ dancers, and Gnash with kids. We weren’t being sold on hockey. We were being sold on the experience. The sizzle, not the steak. And, whaddya know, more people started coming to the games, and the energy inside the arena led to more wins. The playoffs rolled around, and Nashville had a winner to support. The excitement during the latter games of the Anaheim series and all throughout the Vancouver series led to a fever pitch I haven’t seen in this city since that 1999 Titans Super Bowl run. Though the season ended in the second round, Nashville finally figured out what it had been missing for ten years: there’s a hockey team on Broadway, and lo and behold, it’s a lot of fun to watch them play.

The Preds rose to prominence during the leanest of times for the Titans and gave Nashville something to cheer about. As the NFL lockout ends and the season begins, there’s not much to be hopeful for with the boys in blue, but the guys in gold are giving us something to love. Just as the Titans are going through their deepest valley since moving to Nashville, the Predators are climbing a mountain. I firmly believe they can reach the goal of 25 sellouts this year. The real question is: "Will the Preds hang onto these new fans once they falter and the Titans start winning again?" That's going to be a challenge. But if the people who came to love the Preds during the Titans' struggles are like me, they'll get hooked on hockey; not just our team, but the game as a whole.

There is room for both teams in this town. The Preds sputtered along in first gear for the first 12 years, but they shifted into second gear last season, and as the generations change, I think we'll see more off-ice success for the Preds. The news that Bridgestone Arena has ranked among the world's top concert venues only helps things. Though the city owns the building, the Preds see that revenue, and that's helping to stabilize the finances of the team and make it more competitive on and off the ice. It's allowing them to eventually invest more in the products they control (the team and the building), as they pointed out at the Skate of the Union. Cogen and Henry worked with what they inherited last season, and they've had a year to make this team their own. We're beginning to see the effects of that now with the team's rebranding efforts, the increased amount of non-hockey events happening at the arena, and the aesthetic changes coming to the building itself... and I'm getting very excited about the future.

Though I hope the Titans come back to prominence sooner rather than later, I really think the Preds have a chance here to solidify their place in the hearts of Nashville's casual sports fans that have, to this point, pretty much been Titans-exclusive. I hate to go back to the Herb Brooks “Miracle” line, but hey Preds: this is YOUR time, now go out there and take it. The window of opportunity is wide open.


  1. SPOT ON! Preds ARE classy, hard-working, and they love their fans. I love me some football but I LOVE Predators hockey! It's the ultimate fan experience.

  2. I have to disagree with this post. The Titans struggles make it harder for the Preds to draw fans not easier. To get good attendance, the Preds have to draw casual sports fans (hence the good effect of marketing the event, not hockey). When the Titans struggle those people stop paying attention to sports, making it harder for the Preds to get their attention. As long as the Preds win and market themselves well, they should be fine, but the Titans struggles do not help them.

  3. I stand by what I said. Everyone loves a winner. The Preds have a window to capitalize on their success. They got a ton of media attention and carried a buzz around the city through the entire month of April, and that was compounded by the fact that there was no news but bad news (save for the draft, and even it was marred by lockout discussions) coming out of Titans camp and the NFL as a whole for the entire spring and half the summer. I disagree that bad news for the Titans is bad news for all sports fans. Casual sports fans are still proud of their city, and if they have a franchise doing well and representing the city well, they'll latch onto them. Simple as that.

  4. You just undermined your own argument by claiming causal sports fans will latch onto a winner. That means whatever the Titans do has no effect on the Predators, so it does not help them that the Titans are struggling right now.

  5. Not at all. The Titans and Predators directly compete for the attention and dollars of casual sports fans 3 months out of the year (Oct, Nov, Dec). If the Titans suck and the Predators are doing something exciting, people will naturally flock toward the Predators.

  6. BUT, with this being football country, if the Titans are doing something well, the Preds' get buried underneath the Titans' hype.