Rinkside Rant: Nashville vs. Chicago in The Case For Home Ice Advantage

The Nashville Predators have been in the NHL since 1998, and historically, they haven’t had an established fanbase that is nationally known, except in the world of country music (i.e. Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw, Kellie Pickler, et. al.). Their Central Division rival, Chicago Blackhawks, have been in the NHL since 1926, and already have an established fanbase that is known, not just across North America, but around the world. With the Preds already having clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth by beating the Washington Capitals 4-3 today, the wait comes to see who they’ll meet in the first round. If you ask any Preds fan who you DON’T want to see in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, nearly everyone wearing navy and gold would say the Chicago Blackhawks. AND FOR A GOOD REASON.

Sure, the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks met in the playoffs only once; a six-game epic in 2010 that went in favor of the Hawks; but if you take a look at the standings, there was no logistical way Nashville would escape the crosshairs of Chicago  not even in a 2 vs. 3 divisional matchup or more recently, as a 1 vs. wild card matchup. Since the beginning of last season, Predators business operations wanted to tackle, and finally solve, a huge problem that has been going on whenever the Nashville Predators and the Chicago Blackhawks met at Bridgestone Arena. If you took a look at the crowd during a Hawks-Preds game in Nashville, you wouldn’t see GOLD: you would see a sea of RED. That’s because Hawks fans, LIKE ME, always come out in droves whenever Chicago’s hockey team plays away from the United Center. Take a look in St. Louis. Take a look in Arizona. Take a look in Dallas. Take a look in Denver. Take a look in South Florida. Take a look in Anaheim. Take a look in Los Angeles. Take a look in Columbus. Take a look in Raleigh. Whenever the Hawks play in those specific areas, you can see the same things that happen in Nashville: they take over the building and turn the visiting arena into the Madhouse on Madison. It rarely happens when the 28 other NHL teams visit those arenas. (Think about the first ever SpongeBob SquarePants episode where anchovies invade the Krusty Krab.)

Here’s how the strategy went down in Nashville according to Predators President/Chief Operating Officer and Alternate Governor Sean Miller: if you wanted to see the Hawks take on the Preds, you had to be A) a season ticket-holder, B) a partial-season ticket-holder, or C) if you plan to buy a Chicago-Nashville game, you had to purchase another ticket to another Predators game that features one of the 28 other NHL teams.

For the Predators, the reasoning for limiting Blackhawk fans whenever they play in Nashville is pretty simple: they want to establish a home-ice advantage that could equal those in Chicago, Montreal, ane even to a bigger extent, Philadelphia, and to pretty much “level the playing field” when they take on the Blackhawks. A sellout at Bridgestone Arena helps the Preds financially, but so too is the importance of “establishing home-ice advantage” by trying to make your one home arena intimidating to visiting teams.

Back in the beginning of this article, I mentioned the Predators clinched a playoff spot for the first time in four seasons. Well, here’s how the strategy’s going down in Nashville when it comes to playoff tickets: if you wanted to see the Preds in the playoffs, you can A) buy tickets at the Bridgestone Arena box office before or during tomorrow’s Predators game against the Calgary Flames, or B) buy tickets through nashvillepredators.com but only to customers who live within the TV market (Tennessee, Northern Alabama, Northern Mississippi, and Eastern Arkansas).

Preds fans know they might be facing the Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. They DO want to establish a home-ice advantage and make themselves noticed. But they DON’T want to see a sea of red, especially on a huge stage that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. I respect what the Predators want to build, but…

WARNING: The following is coming from the biased Blackhawk fan inside of me speaking. Read with caution.

…it’s not gonna work. What we do, we do best: WE. TAKE. OVER. For some of us, getting tickets to a Hawks game in Chicago is very hard to get. Would you be willing to shell out a good amount of cash if the only seats remaining at the United Center are STANDING ROOM ONLY? Yes, but only in specific situations. Would you be willing to shell out the big bucks to go see the Hawks play on the road? Abso-freaking-lutely! It would be special, especially if you get to do it with friends. But listen to me: there’s a HUGE reason why we take over when we come to Nashville. For some of these people, this might be the only chance to see the Hawks play because they can’t afford to go to Chicago, and see the Hawks play at the United Center. For some of these people, they want to be a part of something special. Anytime you beat a rival team on THEIR home ice is bragging rights AND THEN SOME. Don’t give me the excuse that Predators tickets are a capital-B bargain. Don’t even give me the excuse that Predators think the Blackhawks are a “Big Brother team” they want to beat. WE GET IT. There’s a huge gap between an ESTABLISHING team and an ESTABLISHED team. You wanna replace “The Star-Spangled Banner” with “God Bless America” because we cheer during throughout the national anthem? Go ahead. But it will never take away the fact that in the last six seasons, that though we might be 8-8 in your building, we CAN steal a game, let alone games, in your arena.

And now, back to normal me saying.

What the Predators are doing might be “good for business” and “bad for the opposition”, but you have to do what you need to do, not only from a financial standpoint, but to ensure that your own fanbase that they get their money’s worth, both on and off the rink. In my honest opinion, you don’t have to single out one or two fanbases to protect what’s best for your own team. You have to be open to everyone. And I mean EVERYONE. You’ll get to be there, but only if success breeds success for the long-term.

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