Ah, my internet is finally working (*waits for it to crash because she typed that*) so I can bring you the latest of my many hockey road trips from 2011.
Driving into downtown Nashville two weeks ago was an experience. My boyfriend and I pulled onto the main drag just as fans were pouring out of Bridgestone Arena to celebrate the Predators’ victory over the Detroit Red Wings. There were people in jerseys everywhere, walking under the neon lights to pack every honky tonk on the street. Then someone let out a loud “Red Wings suck!” to a flurry of celebratory car horns. This, my friends, is hockey in the South and everything Atlanta never was. I felt like I’d come home.
Nashville reaffirms my long-held argument that hockey can thrive anywhere given the right amount of love, attention and proper marketing. The Predators have an obviously stellar PR team that has branded the city “Smashville,” evoking hockey’s violent side that easily appeals to the strong football culture in these parts. Billboards featuring Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne invite fans to go “hockey-tonkin’.” So not only are there, you know, visible signs of giving a damn, but the Predators organization has taken the time to brand the team in a way that speaks to local people.
And oh my goodness, the locals are nice, showing the type of genuine Southern hospitality that’s sorely missing from Metro Atlanta these days. The View From 111 and Preds On The Glass both extended warm welcomes. It was a treat to see my Northern boyfriend get the full Southern hospitality experience. At our best in this region we’re well-mannered and inviting, and that feeling was reflected in the pre-game gathering of Predators and St. Louis Blues fans, all friendly and sharing drinks.
Bridgestone Arena itself was nothing short of amazing, all decorated in Predators yellow and blue. The place was packed with fans; it may not have been a sell-out but it was damn near close to one. And there was plenty of razzle dazzle to get the crowd pumped. I can’t stress enough how plain it is that the franchise truly cares about building a strong fan base. For crying out loud, the team skates out of a giant sabertooth tiger head at the beginning of each game. Once the game — a nail-biting 2-1 shootout victory over the St. Louis Blues — was over, this massive crowed poured out onto Broadway looking for places to celebrate and drink.
If you honestly think ice hockey can’t work in the South, I invite you to check out Nashville where, in just a little over a decade, the Predators have managed to carve out a niche in this little Southern city. It amazes me that not only is the team in Nashville but it has become a part of Nashville. The city and the team share an identity, and that my friends is how you win over Southern fans.