Nashville Getting Payoff For Keeping Predators

Posted at 10:44 PM, May 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-24 23:59:13-04

It was 10 years ago Wednesday that businessman Jim Balsillie signed an intent to purchase letter with the intentions of buying the Predators and moving them to Hamilton, Ontario.

It was the darkest hours in the now 20 year history of the team. 

"There were season tickets on sale in Ontario," said Predators President and CEO Sean Henry. "A lot of factors stopped that from happening."

A grass roots "Our Team Nashville" movement was born. A group of local businessman, led by chairman Tom Cigarran and David Freeman, made a bid to buy the team, and support swelled to keep the team here.

Thousands rallied behind the team, organizing a rally that sold nearly 1,000 season tickets in one day in an effort to get the team's attendance over the 14,000-mark. That support ultimately derailed Balsillie's bid to buy the team.

"Our local ownership group (were) all 'day one' season ticket holders, who built their businesses in this community that said, 'we need to step in and do something,'" Henry said. "That's when things really changed for us."

The local interest convinced then-owner Craig Leipold and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to make every effort to keep the team in Nashville. And on August 1, 2007, a deal was struck to keep the Predators in Nashville with the local ownership group purchasing the team for $172 million.

Since that time, the Predators have become part of the fabric of the Nashville scene thanks it's committed local ownership, and an innovative mind like Henry, who is at once team president and the team's biggest cheerleader.

"We have the most passionate fans in sports, always have," Henry said.

With newfound stability, Henry and the Predators tapped into that fanbase with a bold vision.

"We want to be the number one sports entertainment venue in America built around a Stanley Cup championship team," Henry said. "Some (people) laughed a little bit and said, 'how dare you put the word Stanley Cup up on the wall when you've never won one?' We said, 'you're right, that's our goal to win one.'"

Over the last 10 years the Predators have done everything in their power to make good on their promises.

The team has cultivated it's fanbase and rewarded them with one of the best game presentations in all of sports night in and night out.  Just last year, ESPN ranked the Predators no. 1 in all of professional sports in both in-game environment and fan relations.

The team has also given hundreds of thousands of dollars to local causes through the Nashville Predators foundation, cementing it's place even more in the community.

And Nashville has responded, filling Bridgestone Arena night after night with more than 17,000 people dressed in gold, ready to scream at the top of their lungs for the Preds. The team sold out all 41 regular season games this year, and the environment in the playoffs has been the talk of the NHL.

"It's the best team we've ever had on the ice, obviously," Henry said. "But what people are talking about around the globe right now is how great Nashville is as a city, as a market, and how great our arena experience is. So, to me, it's just incredible."

Ten years after nearly heading north of the border, the Predators are unquestionably Nashville's team, set to show the world that Music City is a hockey town after all.