All Star Exposure: Home Stand to Check the Casual Fan.
All Star Exposure: Home Stand to Check the Casual Fan.
By Miranda Martin @Prednecknation
It’s been a very rewarding October for a Predators fan.
After a complete makeover of the Nashville Predators system during this past offseason, many were biting their nails to see the result and if it would be a success. The Preds went all new everything: new coach, new goal song, new players, and an astoundingly large selection of new Preds hats in a titanic size, ostentatiously golden new pro shop are just some of the long list of renovations to the Predators franchise.
But, so far, soooo good.
The opening weeks of the season was certainly prosperous for the Preds. Currently, the team is first in the Central Division with 10 points and have yet to lose in regulation. Comparatively, the team Newcomers like Mike Ribiero, Derek Roy, and (of course) James Neal are already becoming comfortable in their new responsibilities on the team
It all really started with a successful home opener that was on and off the ice quite a success. The long-anticipated, satisfying new features of the arena, including a fan-interactive player tunnel, were the talk of the pregame. Once the puck dropped, the conversation topic quickly changed to a (FINALLY) offense-driven, entertaining, and very new system of hockey. In the first shift alone, the Nashville Predators had 13 shots on goal—which was the team’s total game average for the majority the 2013. The atmosphere was exciting and fresh, and for the first time in many years, I felt compelled to cheer on the team. I couldn’t imagine the excitement to a casual hockey fan completely new to the team.
As if we needed more icing on the already pretty golden cake, on October 17, the NHL announced that the Nashville Predators will be hosting the 2016 NHL All Star Weekend. It seems that the Music City Center (formerly known on foursquare as “Karl Dean’s gaping hole”) actually paid off for something.
The team will be succeeding the Columbus Blue Jackets as hosts of the All Star Game. For anyone who has never been to Nationwide Arena in Columbus, it is constantly ranked as one of the best arenas in the nation—for very good reason. The arena comfortably holds over 18,000 fans with impressive ease, but it also plays host to the Blue Jackets practice facility, a massive knob hockey table that must be played with a dozen people, and mobile kiosks full of Tim Horton’s goodies. It’s hard to rival. Beware the cannon, though. It’s terrifying and not recommended if you’re too hungover from the All Star convention party that is not endorsed by the NHL.
So is Nashville prepared to properly succeed this dear rival in All Star hosting?
The Nashville Predators renovations to Bridgestone Arena are highly commendable. The arena is practically unrecognizable if you haven’t attended a game in the past 2-3 years. The new “SoBro,” as colloquially forced, is a pleasurable sight, with a new open perimeter and the triumphant return of the Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 club. The outside window exposing the new pro shop makes the arena look compellingly open, and the “All Gold Everything” concept is effectively working so far. The new cuisine, including items like Nashville style hot chicken, triple pork Mac n Cheese, and jalapeno bacon grilled cheese, has almost become a gastropub destination as much as a hockey arena. After finding their seat and settling for a good ol’ hockey game, the fans are first entertained with a riveting pregame video displayed on the ice surface. This has become an increasingly popular means of projection, and really sets the standard and opens up incredible opportunity for the future of the game ops.
Moreso, the city of Nashville is almost just as unrecognizable. With considerable renovations to the “SoBro” area (seriously, can we please find a better name?) around the Country Music Hall of Fame and Music City Center, the downtown Nashville area is more metropolitan than ever. The hotel space in the area has essentially doubled, making accommodations for traveling hockey fans much easier. New various bars and eateries grace the streets of downtown, waiting for an opportunity to attract tourism in the middle of the winter. The beauty of the town will gleam as hockey fans near and far will fall in love with the city.
However, with so many thousands of hockey tourists coming to Nashville, we must be prepared to welcome them properly—as a serious hockey city. Just having an All Star game doesn’t mean you are officially a hockey market. Show that mentality to Atlanta, who lost their team less than five years after they hosted the All Star Weekend. One of the traits to being an All Star hockey town is playing a good host with the opposing team’s fans. And this upcoming weekend is a grand opportunity to see some of the fans who will probably grace our arena in a mere 15 months.
As history is shown, Nashville doesn’t like to play nice with the opposing team sometimes. One of those teams is, obviously, the Chicago Blackhawks, who the team plays tonight. After the horrible “Keep the Red Out” campaign massively failed, the Predators front office gave in, even allowing the game to retain a College Night discount. This means that many Chicago fans could potentially be in attendance to tonight’s game, especially since attendance is a little down so far.
“But we always keep it classy, unlike Chicago fans.” Sure. If by “classy” we really mean constantly concerning ourselves that some Chicago fan is going to cheer during the anthem. At the last home Blackhawks/Predators game I attended, one guy in 107 cheered during the anthem(I saw him, I remember him, I will find him, and I will… kindly ask him not do it again), and many fans, including the group around him, just simply looked at him like an imbecile until he stopped. And if they do cheer during the anthem, then let them look bad—the average NHL fan, including a ‘Hawks fan, is going to agree that they were being inappropriate. No need to exacerbate the situation with “classy” passive-aggressive tweets about how much you hate “stupid bandwagoners.” Bandwagoners buy seats, and even with the steep price, they’ll inevitably be at the All Star Weekend.
On Saturday, the Nashville Predators host the Pittsburgh Penguins—another major hockey name well-acquainted with clichés, especially the term “silly bandwagoners.” Not as noticeably as Chicago or Detroit games, but many fans will hang up their Predators gold for the black and gold of the Penguins. Some may be putting on their Crosby or Malkin jerseys, while others don their Lemieux, Jagr, or Francis jerseys. At any rate, it is an established hockey market that regards certain praise, and it is understandable why they have so many fans.
This game goes beyond the appearance of the elusive Sidney Crosby, which will bring many casual hockey fans that may not necessarily root for the Preds. It will also be the first return of former Predator Patric Hornqvist, a fan favorite who was a part of the James Neal trade. The focus needs to be on creating a great atmosphere, not counting how many Crosby jerseys show up or even sneering at Preds fans who wear their 27 jerseys. Let’s just make sure if the Preds have three goals, we articulate that we want FROSTIES, not “Crosby.”
Just as the front office made over the franchise, the fans may need to prepare to make over how they see the opposing teams. A new, attractive arena in the center of a new, chic, business-attracting area is an open door for Nashville transplants to be exposed to an All Star fanbase. Don’t let them be discouraged because they like a popular team.
This weekend will be a test, on and off the ice. Let’s be the All Star Nashville we are and pass.