There is no doubt that in the South, college football is king. Southerners eagerly anticipate the fall every year for the return of hard-hitting and fast-paced gridiron battles. However Nashville, the heart of the SEC, has been taken over by a sport traditionally viewed as just for Northerners, Canadians and Russians. Hockey has broken into the South and has seen tremendous success. This success has not occurred by chance, but through a collection of systematic ventures and situations aimed at popularizing the game of hockey to Dixie.
As massive companies such as Nissan, HCA, and Cracker Barrel all have headquarters in Nashville, a huge influx of transplants have moved into middle Tennessee communities. This influx in recent years can be shown in the above data of Predators home game attendance which correlates with the rising population of the city.
This rise in attendance, which has increased from under 13,000 on average in the early years of the franchise to a capacity just over 17,000 in 2014, corresponds directly with the rise in Nashville’s population from 1.3 million in 2000, in the Predators early days, to 1.8 million in 2014. This is large in part due to the hockey familiar transplants from all over the country moving to Nashville, which has growing healthcare, technology and service industries. As the Vice-President and Chief Marketing Officer of the Predators said, “There's more people moving into these markets from transplanted areas where hockey is more prevalent. Hockey continues to grow, and it is sustained growth” (Turner). Additionally, the fact that Predators have found tremendous success on the ice has caused many lifelong fans of other teams to adopt the Predators as an emotional fandom. This situation, in conjunction with the elusion of success for the city’s other teams, has had a major impact on the increasing growth of the Predators in the South’s major city.
In addition to the increasing influx of transplants, the Predators prime location in the heart of the entertainment district of Nashville is critical for the team’s success. The location on Broadway, across from countless bars and restaurants with live country music makes the arena another entertainment venue in easy access to continued nightlife. This has generated tremendous business for establishments in the area around the arena, with countless service establishments popping up in recent years, which in turn advertise frequently for the Predators and naturally serve as a part of a Predators game day experience. This entire experience, from dining before hand, to walking to the game and then walking to the bars afterwards has truly exemplified the city of Nashville and included hockey within that. This has led to the adoption of hockey as a beloved part of Nashville in recent years, as more and more of the city’s residents, and tourists, associate the Predators with the Nashville experience.
Lastly, the Predators have done a tremendous job of marketing and community engagement. In first coming to the Southern market, the Predators as an organization offered seminars to the residents of Tennessee to introduce the sport of hockey, the rules, and the players (Godfrey). These seminars in particular proved to be incredibly successful, as the players were out in the community as brand ambassadors for the organization and making personal connections with fans and a young generation who have now grown up supporting this team. Furthermore, the organization has continued to actively engage with the community, which has continued to create brand affinity with the citizens of Tennessee and the organization.
When the Predators were franchised in 1998, the citizens of Tennessee were completely unaccustomed to the game of hockey. Football was ingrained into the culture of the entire South, with Nashville being a forefront of that. However, roughly seventeen years later hockey has become one of the city’s greatest attractions for tourists and locals alike. The Predators have completely changed the culture of the city to hockey lovers through marketing and community engagement, the prime location of the team and the transplants coming to the city.
This blog was written by Samford University student Graham Lehman.
Godfrey, Steven. SB Nation. “How the Nashville Predators Built a Fan Base in the Heart of College Football Country.” Retrieved from: http://www.sbnation.com/nhl/2015/4/17/8429653/nashville-predators-fan-base-nhl-hockey-south-stanley-cup-playoffs.
Turner, John. AL.Com. “Nashville Predators’ Success Proof that UAH Hockey can Survive – and Thrive – in the South.” Retrieved from: http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2011/12/nashville_predators_success_pr.html