When most people think of Nashville, the first things that probably come to mind are country music, cowboy hats, and maybe even the hit television show of the same name. But hockey? When the city of Nashville was awarded an NHL expansion team back in 1998, many people were critical of the move because they thought that hockey in the South was something that just couldn’t work. The Predators, however, have proven that hockey in the South can work, when a rabid fan base is coupled with a stellar marketing team that has successfully branded the city “Smashville,” and has made the city fall in love with this team.
I was fortunate enough to experience what the Predators are all about first hand on my recent spring break trip to Nashville, as I took in a game between them and the Calgary Flames last week at Bridgestone Arena. One of the best things about the Predators home arena is its central location downtown and its close proximity to the country music bars, or “honky tonks,” that Nashville is known for.
This location on famed Broadway Street makes Bridgestone Arena feel like the place to be and has linked the Predators to the music city’s culture. This fact is very evident as signs of “Hockey Tonkin” are seen throughout Bridgestone Arena, and a country music band plays in between periods on a stage located above one of the goals.
Some of the other unique things that fans experience when watching a game at Bridgestone Arena include the Predators skating out of a giant saber tooth tiger head during team introductions and the song “I Like It, I Love It” by Tim McGraw ringing from the rafters after every Predators goal. The fans themselves were terrific, and were loud and energetic throughout the entire game.
One group of fans who call themselves “Cell Block 303,” were particularly loud and sit in a section in the upper deck where they lead the rest of the fans in chants throughout the game, similar to a student section in college sports. All of these features blended together provide for a truly unique fan experience and have turned Bridgestone Arena into one the loudest arenas in the NHL.
One thing that has helped the Predators flourish in an area that you wouldn’t normally associate with hockey is the fact that they have created their own brand of hockey. By using brand names like “Hockeytonk” and “Smashville,” the Predators have managed to take both the excitement and atmosphere that exists on Broadway Street and the hard-hitting side of hockey that easily appeals to a football crazy culture, and have used these to create an exciting brand of hockey that the people of Nashville can relate too.
The city of Nashville over the past few years has become a great hockey market as the Predators now fill the arena for almost every game and fans in the area have become more educated on the sport, as I could easily tell from sitting at the game last week.
So if you honestly think that hockey can’t work in the South, then I invite you to come to Nashville where, in just a little over a decade the Predators have managed to carve out their own little niche in the Music City. It was truly amazing to see just how much this team has become apart of Nashville, and that the city and the team now share a common identity that has the people in this Southern city crazy about hockey. This has turned the Predators into the hottest show in town.