KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Smashville.
It’s hard to escape hearing of the nickname referencing the most successful – either collegiately or professionally – team in the Volunteer State.
The Nashville Predators have united Nashville, as well as the state of Tennessee during their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the first appearance in their 18th season in franchise history.
The Stanley Cup Finals run has etched the Predators as one of the better teams in the NHL along with an electrifying scene put on by the fans inside and outside Bridgestone Arena.
— 102.5 The Game (@1025TheGame) May 23, 2017
Part of the fan base is made up of SEC fans. Tennessee and Vanderbilt fans are well represented along with fans of other SEC schools who live in the mid-state.
With the support and popularity at an all-time high now for Tennessee’s NHL team, how close are the Nashville Predators in hosting an outdoor game?
Twenty-three of the 30 NHL teams have played in an outdoor game since the league debuted the Winter Classic in 2008 and eventually rolled out the Stadium Series in attempt to play more games outside throughout the season.
The largest crowd came on Jan. 1, 2014, when the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs played at the Big House on Michigan’s campus in front of a record 105,491 (104,173 certified) to watch a hockey game.
Since the debut of the Winter Classic, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park, Michigan Stadium, Nationals Park, Gillette Stadium and Busch Stadium have hosted NHL games. Citi Field, home of the New York Mets, has been announced for the 2018 Winter Classic between the New York Rangers and the Buffalo Sabres.
With the Predators proving to the hockey world that they are not only a good team and franchise, but now the overwhelming support is there, with the actual consideration of playing a game outside at the Tennessee Titans’ home Nissan Stadium or even Neyland Stadium.
Just imagine: Smashville … in Knoxville.
“There’s always a lot of talk, and now the talk is warranted,” Bradford told Saturday Down South. “You have to prove yourself on a national stage and that’s exactly what the Predators are doing now.”
Even before the run to the Stanley Cup Finals, events such as the Battle at Bristol between Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway have sparked more consideration toward the Predators coming closer to making an outdoor game a reality.
“With the Bristol game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech, the topic of the Predators doing something like that is there within a Stadium Series,” said Bradford, who wrote a book on the Predators.
Scheduling is the major difference between the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series.
The Winter Classic is usually played on New Year’s Day if it does not compete with other major televised events. The Stadium Series is on a lesser scale. They are still huge, but won’t necessarily be televised on NBC and are more regional. Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, Soldier Field, Levi’s Stadium, TCF Bank Stadium, Coors Field and Heinz Field have hosted games in the Stadium Series that started in 2013. As of now, there are no Stadium Series games scheduled for the 2017-2018 season.
Bradford says that “the talk mostly has been about a Stadium Series game instead of the Winter Classic” for the Predators.
“Reasons for being part of the Stadium Series would be due to the Titans still being in season and the Winter Classic takes about a week to setup. A Stadium Series game could be played in early February, which in Nashville is probably around when it’s the coldest.
“The Predators are now in a position where they could host a Stadium Series game against a division rival or another strong team that can draw a television audience, such as a Montreal or Washington with a story-line. It’s about money and the experience, and Nissan Stadium would be a perfect host within the next two seasons.”
A team all of Tennessee can support
Watch parties are happening throughout the Volunteer State whenever the Predators play. Many of those watching are college football fans patiently awaiting the start of the season, and the Predators are filling the ordinary lull with excitement.
Even Tennessee coach Butch Jones and Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason are behind the Predators.
— Nashville Sports (@NashvilleSports) May 22, 2017
— Derek Mason (@CoachDerekMason) May 22, 2017
Whether fans are watching games at house parties, local establishments or even driving to Nashville to go to a game or take in the atmosphere on the plaza, this run has generated a buzz that will last far beyond this summer.
“People want to experience something unique, especially in the south,” Bradford said. “You grow up with it and that’s why a sport like college football works so well. Even if you don’t go to a certain school, you are fan because of your family, friends or whatever you grew up with.
“The Predators have become more than regional.”
Atlanta’s NHL team moving to Winnipeg in 2011 created a void that the Predators have been filling.
“Having hockey fans in Atlanta supporting Nashville and seeing Preds fans in Knoxville, Chattanooga, northern Alabama, southern Kentucky this is what helps to grow with success,” Bradford continued. “Some people will say 15 years from now that I’ve been a fan since 2017 and that started with a playoff run, and that’s how you grow into a state and regional team.”
The thought of having a an outdoor game played inside historic Neyland Stadium is ideal, too. With capacity at 102,455, standing room tickets could be sold or bringing in any additional seating would help break the attendance record set on Michigan’s campus at the Big House. Bradford said “it would add a lot of something special” to play on the campus of Tennessee.
“You look at how big fan bases are, there’s something special about college football stadiums,” he said. “Nissan Stadium is one to start with because it’s in Nashville and would be easier to sell tickets in the upper 60,000 compared to 100,000.
“You want to start out where you are successful and to set yourself up for success. What was great about watching the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Michigan Stadium, you see the Michigan branding everywhere and you realize you are on a college campus. So Neyland Stadium is right on the river and could pull up boats and then the sound that could be generated inside the stadium would be a possibility if it continues to grow. The experience is what is neat for the fans.”