Canadian readers: It’s easy for us to get caught up in our domestic “our game” superiority complex. Hockey is a big deal here, we know this. As HOCKEY fans, however – not just strictly NHL – growing the game should be a priority. How often have you found yourself in front of a TV or at a rink taking in a game, thinking “how could you NOT love this sport?” Well, this is a step to ridding yourself of that question for good.
Fun fact: Preds haven’t had a crowd under 14K since Dec 5 2009. Tonight will be 8th straight sellout. #nhl
— Dirk Hoag (@Forechecker) January 8, 2012
The city of Nashville is getting fairly used to the eyerolls that come with owning a hockey team in the Sun Belt. Why are they there? Why aren’t there more Canadian teams? What about Seattle? Hartford? Even Las Vegas would be a high profile spot.
Believe it or not, the folks and fans of Nashville are embracing the Preds a little more each year. This makes me wonder, can we finally say that Nashville is a hockey town and put the skepticism to bed?
This year the Preds have had 97% of their building filled from the opener to today. 97%! To put that in perspective, they’re outdrawing the Montreal Canadiens from a percentage standpoint – not absolute capacity because of the size of the Bell Centre – and have had that number increase consistently over the past handful of seasons. Last season was Nashville’s first foray into the 90% capacity range as they filled 94.3% of their seats. Two seasons before they only filled the building to the 87% mark. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a 10% increase in average attendance in just three seasons. If we want to talk attendance proper, let’s not forget that the Bridgestone Arena has a higher capacity than the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Obviously Winnipeg is a stronger traditional hockey market, but the ability for a non-traditional market like Nashville to generate interest in the league and the sport is undeniable.
With the team consistently making appearances in the playoffs and ranking among the upper echelon of on-ice franchises both professionally and developmentally, the growth of the NHL and hockey at-large in Nashville will be something to keep your eyes on as we move forward. When you also consider the strides the team has made to ingrain itself in the community at-large – think of their season ticket holder events, public jersey unveiling, etc. – its hard to write this franchise off as another typical American bust waiting to happen. Their rebrand in the summer to give it more of that “country” feel has only furthered their spot in the sports culture of the city. It’s just one example of a step previous teams have failed to take.
If the Preds continue to make an impact the way they have the past three seasons, we may just have to file “Smashville” under the column of hockey towns after all. Don’t kid yourself on that one, that is a very, very good thing for hockey lovers everywhere, regardless of your country.