By Amanda DiPaolo
The Nashville Predators have always been considered a part of a “traditional” hockey market of sorts. It’s a tradition for the media to group struggling hockey cities together, suggesting they be relocated to Winnipeg, Quebec City, Hamilton or even Kansas City, Las Vegas or Seattle.
Always on the move
It seems every other month Ken Campbell from The Hockey News has the Predators on the move. Either Nashville is looking for investors or are about to be sold and moved to Kansas. Just last March, Campbell’s rumor was that the “Nashville Predators have reached an agreement with the Metro Sports Authority to keep the team in Nashville for at least another two seasons, but the deal has yet to be signed and there are rumblings Kansas City is making a serious push for the Predators to relocate there.”
With stories of relocation constantly swirling around the Nashville Predators, you can excuse a fan for being uneasy every time the topic du jour is mentioned.
After a month into the 2010-2011 season, with the Coyotes averaging under 10 000 fans in attendance per game and the Islanders, Blue Jackets and Thrashers averaging less than 12 000 fans, news stories, blogs and even tweets pop up on a daily basis calling for the moving vans to head over to these respective arenas. Incidentally, the Panthers are also lumped into the group, despite averaging only 275 tickets less per game than the New Jersey Devils.
On Thursday, Lyle Richardson of Spector’s Hockey wrote another story on attendance, asking what option is better for the NHL, contraction or relocation. Richardson singles out the “continuing attendance woes for struggling NHL franchises in Phoenix, Atlanta, Miami, Tampa Bay, Columbus and Long Island continues to provide fodder for speculation over their respective futures.”
With no mention of Nashville in a relocation story, Predators fans took notice. Buddy Oakes over at Predsontheglass tweeted a “hats off” to Richardson for not including Nashville, thus recognizing the Predators early success at the gate this season.
Richardson responded. “Nashville has been making slow but steady improvement in recent years as a hockey market. No longer struggling,” he tweeted.
Nashville as a hockey market? Why not?
Being a stable hockey market has to include more than cold weather. Financial stability and a returning fan base are important factors in discussing the success of a hockey team. When the Predators didn’t make the playoffs in 2009, Josh Lobdell pointed out in the Examiner that the Predators had actually made a small profit, even without the revenue that comes with hosting playoff games. The profit was small, $145 000, but taking into consideration that the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions lost money last year, things continue to look up for the Predators as an organization.
How big of a deal is it for Nashville not be included in discussions of relocation? Huge. It is the first time Nashville has been spared being lumped into the group of city-that-doesn’t-deserve/support-a-hockey-team since before Jim Balsillie tried to buy the Predators in 2007.
The Predators are currently 20th in league attendance, but that statistic doesn’t tell the entire story. The Edmonton Oilers are 18th in league attendance and they sellout every home game. Rexall Place is smaller than the United Center in Chicago so while they both sell out every game, Chicago is listed as second in league attendance. The Oilers will never have that honor.
As for the Predators, after one month of regular season action, Nashville is filling the Bridgestone Arena at a 94.1% capacity rate. In 6 games, the Predators have two sellouts and are averaging 16 110 fans per game. In fact, out of a possible 102 678 seats, Nashville filled 96 663 of them, leaving only 6015 tickets unsold.
What a difference a year makes
During the off season, Nashville hired a new CEO and new President and COO, Jeff Cogen and Sean Henry respectively. Buddy Oakes talked to Cogen about attendance at the end of October. Cogen explained to Predsontheglass what the organization was doing to fill the seats. Cogen says that the season ticket renewal rate was high and that they focused on attracting new people to the rink. Cogen told Oakes that if you can get people to just one game, they will like it and come back.
So far, Cogen’s plan has been working.
Contrast the impressive numbers of this year’s first six games with last year’s first several home games a season ago. Out of a possible 102 678 seats, the Predators filled 80 393 of them for only a 78% capacity rate.
Nashville couldn’t sell out the season’s home opener, in fact didn’t even come close. Opening the season against the Colorado Avalanche on a Thursday night, only 14,797 fans were in attendance. The first Saturday night game, against Buffalo, welcomed 14,209 fans to the arena. Attendance went from bad to worse with the Predators playing a rare Monday night game. Playing against Edmonton, only 12,179 fans were in attendance (the Predators were hammered 6-1, so it was a good game to miss). The Predators first 6 games also included two Thursday night matches against the already favored to win the Stanley Cup, Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks. Neither game reached the 14 000 mark (13,103 and 13,585). Finally, the month of October ended on a Saturday, when the Dallas Stars came to town in front of a small group of 12,520 devoted fans.
The Predators are known as a team that has a pick up in attendance after football season is over. If the Titans are playing poorly or are out of the playoffs, more people show up at Nashville Predators games. After the Super Bowl, the Predators rarely played in front of less than 14 000 fans. But this season, fans have shown up, even when competing against college football and a local NFL team that is playing its best football in years.
The season opener against the Anaheim Ducks was a sellout. A week later, there were 15 103 fans in attendance when Nashville took on the St. Louis Blues. Calgary visited Nashville on a Tuesday night with 15 684 fans in attendance. The Capitals played in front of 16 144, and Sidney Crosby’s Penguins were able to sellout the Bridgestone Arena (17 113). Finally, when the Blues made their second of three stops in Nashville, 15 506 fans were in attendance.
Even if the Predators sold out every game, they would only move up from 20th overall to 18th because of the size of the arena. The much more interesting statistic is to look at the percentage of the arena that is sold out. Detroit, a Central Division rival, and original six team, fills 95% of the arena on average. That’s only .9% more than Nashville.
Players have taken notice
The strong attendance this season has not been lost on the players themselves.
After the season opener against Anaheim, Steve Sullivan said “We want to make sure we are successful. I think a home opener with an almost sold out or a sold out crowd is huge for us. We are trying to build something in Nashville. And we want to keep building off of it. Winning hockey is what brings people to the rink. Hopefully they will keep coming.”
And the fans have indeed kept coming.
After the overtime loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of a sold out crowd, Shane O’Brien, Nashville’s newest addition, acquired from Vancouver for Ryan Parent and Jonas Andersson, commented on the Nashville fans. “They’re here all the time cheering us on. That’s great. It gives us more emotion and more intensity. It was great. We were ready to go.”
Nashville’s next home game is against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, November 13th. Expect another big crowd on hand as it will be the first time the two teams meet in Nashville since game six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals when Chicago eliminated Nashville from the post season.
Are you looking for tickets to an upcoming Predators home game? Follow this link for discounted tickets. Make an account and then use the word Preds as the code for the discount. The next Predators home game is Saturday night, November 13th when the Preds take on the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.