Preds' Fans: The Phenomenon Hockey Is Trying To Explain

Hockey Trying To Explain Preds Fans Phenomenon
Posted at 10:31 AM, May 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-29 11:31:10-04

Column after column has been written leading up to the start of the Stanley Cup Final trying to describe Nashville fans to a hockey world that may just be taking notice of the gold cauldron of intensity that has been Bridgestone Arena during these playoffs.

The questions came left and right during Stanley Cup Final Media Day Sunday.

"What's it like to play in front of that atmosphere," one reporter asked, before adding on, "did you ever think that would be possible in Nashville?"

Another reporter followed, "What do you expect for games three and four, and do you think this means Nashville's truly embraced hockey for good?"

"It's so loud for these games, do you think the fans in Nashville are becoming knowledgeable about hockey?"

Everyone wants to understand what's going on in Smashville, but no one seems to be able to quite grasp who Predators' fans are. That makes sense for two reasons.

One, many of these writers haven't been around the Preds, or their fans, much before this unlikely journey from 16th seed to Western Conference Champions.

As someone who has covered the team for seven seasons and been on the road with them throughout this playoff run, the second reason Preds' fans are hard to explain is actually what makes them, and the magic of this run, so special to me.

They don't fit neatly into a box. They are not a one-size-fits-all group. They are a mix of diehards, transplants and those that have been caught up in the power of this playoff push.

No, this is not an original six franchise like the Maple Leafs, Canadiens or Red Wings. This is a team that came into existence in 1998. Nashvillians are not born into hockey fandom, or at least they haven't been. Just about every college graduate would be able to recall the time before Nashville had hockey.

For those born after 1998 in middle Tennessee, hockey is very much a part of the sporting landscape they've grown up with. Youth hockey participation is booming with the number of high school programs quadrupling in the last decade, and that segment of the population has embraced the team in droves.

This also isn't just a group of young kids or bandwagon jumping southerners, latching on to a hot team playing a northern sport they had no previous emotional investment in. The Preds have had diehard supporters since day one, which is how they were able to save the team from Canadian poaching 10 years ago.

Once the Predators future in Nashville was secure, residents began to invest more and more of their time and energy into their team.

The Predators have sold out 58 consecutive home games dating back to last season. And more times than not in my seven years covering them, Bridgestone Arena's been full. Every single Stanley Cup Final ticket available was purchased by season ticket holders before any sales went public. Stories about lagging attendance with this team are simply out of date.

Now as the city grows by whopping totals of nearly 100 people per day, more and more of those transplants are getting hooked. This boom has made Nashville the "it city" in America, and Predators' games have become the "it thing" to do, turning a once non-traditional southern market into a hockey town.

If you love Nashville, chances are you will love the Predators. Smashville was born as an entertainment venue as much as a hockey arena. Come to a hockey game and you never know what you might see, from an acrobatic mascot to laser light on-ice projections to an intermission band and even the occasional Grammy winner singing the national anthem.

What may have started as a gimmick to attract non-traditional fans has turned Bridgestone Arena into what ESPN ranked last year as the best in-arena experience in sports. You will have fun at a Predators game, and if you happen to fall in love with the team while you're there, even better.

The Predators are happy to welcome new fans, from Nashville and beyond.

After all, growing your fanbase should be the goal of every team, right? Bandwagon jumpers? Feel free to hop on board. It's not like this is a phenomenon only associated with the Predators.

How many Blackhawks sweaters did you see in Chicago in 2009? Then they won three Stanley Cups in six years and now they're everywhere.

Postseason runs like this are what light fanbases on fire, turning casual observers into passionate fanatics. It's frankly a testament to how good Predators' fans have been that the arena was already packed before the team ever made a run like this.

And it's clear these fans know the game. The cheers aren't just loud, they come at the right times.

Give up your body to block a shot, fans cheer. Clear a puck to kill off a penalty and the crowd roars in approval. Score a goal and Smashville feels like it might explode.

These crowds are invested, as they have been for some time.

The Predators are Nashville's team, and their fans are numerous. From day one season ticket holders to the family with two kids down the street to the aspiring musician that just moved to town. This team has united the entire city.

If you're not familiar with Nashville, it's hard to grasp. Ask as many questions as you want, you probably won't find the answer you're looking for.

If you've visited during this playoff run, you've felt it. You've heard it.

The Predators are here to stay, and so are their fans.