I have been a little absent this season with my writings and, for a season that has made history for not only the city of Nashville, but the franchise itself, I couldn’t have picked a worse time to slack off. The superstitious side of me would say, “Hey, they’ve been doing well without you writing so why jinx it now?” but the more practical side of me says, “Wow, you’ve picked up a lot on your plate this past year; let’s not over do it.” Because this blog is a passion and a hobby, it tends to be the first thing that gets cut before anything else. But every now and then, I get a chance to set everything else aside and just write. So what on earth could be more important on a day like today than to talk about the fans of the Nashville Predators?
How would you describe a fan base like that of the Nashville Predators? You could start by comparing them to any fan base, really; a professional sports team is established and the city rallies around them, right? But like any good fan base, there’s something unique; something… off. Whether you are talking baseball, basketball, soccer, or even other NHL cities, there’s something interesting about each fan base. Hockey is not new to Nashville (professionally it has been around since the 1960’s), but it is new to unearthed market. Although the Nashville Predators hit the ice back in 1998, there were (and still are) a vast amount of Middle Tennesseans who have never been exposed to either the Preds or hockey in general. For example, I was aware the Predators existed, but it wasn’t until my boyfriend-now-husband took me to my first game back in 2009 that I truly realized its existence. I was immediately hooked. The Nashville Predators have done a hell of a job in the marketing department, but it truly takes exposure on a national (and international) level to wake the world up to what we have to offer in Nashville as a hockey market.
For the diehard Preds fans who have hung on through thick and thin, this playoff run has been one for the ages. And for those just now getting a taste of Smashville hockey, it’s exhilarating. There’s no doubt the fan base has grown by a few thousand since sweeping the Blackhawks in the first round, but make no mistake; no one should be upset about Nashville gaining “bandwagoners”. There was a time, not too long ago, when this team was almost lost to Hamilton, Ontario when then-owner Craig Leipold put the team up for sale. Fans rallied together in protest and, thanks to a group of ten investors, the Predators were safe to stay in Music City. That was just ten years ago, folks. The fans that endured that potential nightmare are certainly not complaining about the onslaught of new fans that are jumping on board to cheer on the Predators towards the ultimate goal. Sure, a good chunk may fall off if Nashville does not succeed, but the amount that will be hooked will be outstanding in numbers. Speaking just ten years ago, it was almost unheard of to have your child play hockey over sports like soccer, baseball, and football (on the average joe level), but now? The greater Nashville area has two major ice rink facilities with one more on the way being built in Bellevue. The sport is growing at a rapid pace in a market that was deemed too nontraditional just a few years ago. Heck, it still is, but the tides are changing and the world is beginning to take notice.
So back to the question of describing Nashville Predators fans (I diverged a little bit). In my opinion, fans of the Nashville Predators are a wild mix of college football fans who have brought that rowdy, hostile spirit to a sport, not on a field, but on ice. When you gather a bunch of Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Michigan folks together for a single cause, it’s bound to be loud and, sometimes, out of hand. But that’s just one of the aspects that gives Nashville it’s uniqueness. Perhaps it’s a combination of the college football mentality and the southern hospitality that keeps the Bridgestone Arena consistently named one of the best arenas to watch professional hockey. May be it is due to the fact that ticket prices remain relatively affordable, which allows just about everyone to participate and attend. There is truly a difference between watching hockey on television and getting to experience the atmosphere live. Predators fans are rich, they are poor; they are farmers, they are engineers; they are rednecks and they are high class. And while those descriptions could go on to describe any professional team fan base, it goes deeper than that with Nashville; actually, it goes farther.
You see, it isn’t just the city of Nashville who has rallied around the Predators; it’s the entire state. From Memphis to Johnson City, the state of Tennessee has embraced Nashville’s hockey team and the success it has accomplished thus far. Granted, if the Tennessee Titans or the Memphis Grizzlies were in the same boat, I am sure the state would rally behind them as well. But hockey is different; hockey is not as nationally accepted as professional football and basketball. This exposure is opening the eyes of many Tennesseans to this sport for the first time and luckily, in cities like Memphis (Southaven) and Knoxville, there are hockey teams there to expand the game. Might it also be noted that most of the major colleges throughout the state (and including throughout the SEC) have hockey clubs and teams at their schools. While that may not sound like much to someone from say, Minnesota or any other traditional “state of hockey”, to those here in the South that want to see this sport grow, it’s beautiful. There were more than a thousands Predators fans decked in gold waiting to welcome the team home from Anaheim yesterday at the airport.
Some of these folks have been fans since the beginning and some are just now learning the sport, but my gosh was it amazing to see so many people out there yesterday. When you love this sport as much as I do, you want to see this; you want to see people jumping on board and supporting the team. Will they all remain when the wheels fly off the rails? Probably not, but that is professional sports for you. However, as I mentioned before, the amount that will be instantaneously hooked will be insurmountable. The fact that, for the thousands who couldn’t get tickets, are still coming out to the game to watch it outside the arena is mind-boggling.
So to all you Nashville Predators fans out there – whether you are new to the scene or have been here since the beginning – here’s to you. Here’s to building and growing this great sport and let’s show the world what it means to be proud of this team. There is no fan base like you and while some on the outside may criticize your actions and choice of chants, just know that you are what makes Nashville great. From those who rally the pack in Cellblock 303 to the newbies in the lower bowl, and to those camped out on the plaza, it is the 7th Man that propels this team. It is the 7th Man that will continue to grow this sport. Thank you. Now let’s go out there and stand with our team and prove why Nashville is – and will always be – a hockey town.