Alan Jackson performs on Broadway in Nashville prior to Game 3. Image by: Getty Images
The team is in the black, there are a projected 13,000 season ticket holders, and promise of being a long-term Stanley Cup contender. Something special is building in Nashville.
NASHVILLE – Nashville Predators’ pro scout Nick Beverley has been a part of the NHL for 40 years now, going back to his days as an Original Six player with the Boston Bruins. He has never been this close to the Stanley Cup. Walking through the bowels of Bridgestone Arena Monday morning, Beverley was asked about the experience.
“It’s been fun,” he said, “but a little too loud.”
The Predators have not only done an outstanding job of building their roster under GM David Poile, they’ve made a connection with their fan base like no other market in the league. It was estimated that there were 50,000 fans around the arena for Game 3 Saturday night. Sporadic rain and the fact Game 4 falls on a Monday night will put a damper on those numbers, but it’s clear the Predators are onto something here when it comes to relating to local fans.
The Predators sold out every home game this season and Monday night will be their 10th playoff date. The team store is doing a booming business, the local TV numbers are robust and the team is projecting to have between 13,000 and 14,000 season-ticket holders for a rink with a capacity of 17,113. After years of despair and uncertainty, the Predators are turning a profit.
“This year we will have black ink,” said Predators president and CEO Sean Henry. “The story of people questioning Nashville is over. It really, really is.”
The question now is how big can this thing get? Does it remain a local gem or do the Predators get to the point where they’re contributing to the NHL’s revenue sharing program rather than drawing from it? As for this season, it’s unknown what their status will be because the revenues haven’t been totalled yet and playoff revenues do not count toward revenue sharing. An executive from another NHL team said that last season the Predators had revenues of about $700,000 per game, which is still on the low end of the league, but the Predators operate the Bridgestone Arena and get all of the revenues out of it.
Last season the Predators had $116 million in revenues on $38 million in gate receipts. As far as hockey revenues are concerned, they’re bound to be much higher this season.
“Every year has gotten a little bit better,” Henry said. “It’s a record year on the building and each year has been busier than the prior year. We’ve had a record year for all of our business metrics, whether you’re talking premium seats, sponsorships or ticket sales.”
It’s easy to get excited about a dynamic team that is successful and makes a run to the Stanley Cup final. But the sense is that there has been something special building in Nashville and the fumes from this Stanley Cup run should last quite a while. It also helps that the Predators have a strong roster that shows promise of being a long-term Stanley Cup contender. Clearly, the very dark days of the team being sold to Jim Balsillie, then to William ‘Boots’ Del Biaggio, who later went to the big house for bilking investors, are long gone. The turning point for the Predators was the emergence of a local group of investors, led by current majority owner Thomas Ciggaran, who took over the team in 2010 and immediately worked at creating a connection with fans.
“Every team that is a new team enjoys a honeymoon, but we had two honeymoons because we almost got divorced 10 years ago,” Henry said. “The relationship between our fans and our partners and this franchise is like nothing I’ve ever seen. They saved the team, so they kind of own it.”
Henry estimates that about 500 fans per game are new to the sport, so it’s key to make the experience a memorable one for them. He realizes that a team that makes a run to the final is bound to attract a fair number of bandwagon fans, but the power of a party involving 50,000 people is really strong, particularly when the home team makes it memorable by winning 5-1. From the throwing of catfish to the opposition taunts from the crowd, to the way this fan base has embraced a sport that is foreign to them, it’s a template the Vegas Golden Knights might want to follow as they develop their fan base.
“I think it’s a really healthy mix of SEC football, SEC basketball, NASCAR and the passion of what we think of the European soccer fans,” Henry said. “People knock us, saying, ‘You’re just an ‘X’ market, fill in the blank with whatever you want, but thank goodness we are because you have all of those passions and traditions.”
PENGUINS READY FOR GAME 4: Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said his team is excited about having a chance to “lace ’em up”, but he also knows his team will have to find its game if it wants to maintain control of the series.
“I don’t think we’ve established the level of play that we know we’re capable of,” Sullivan said, “or at least not as consistently as we’d like.”
One way to achieve that would be to have Nick Bonino back in the lineup after missing Game 3 with a foot injury. Bonino took part in part of the Penguins’ practice Sunday, but didn’t skate Monday morning and was seen leaving the Bridgestone Arena in a walking cast and on crutches. But don’t let that fool you. The level of gamesmanship that goes on during the playoffs is astounding. It would not be a surprise to see him out on the ice for Game 4. For his part, Sullivan said Bonino is, “a game-time decision.”