Thursday, December 15, 2011

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.

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