Simply an observation, but I’ve had a glimpse into what many see on a daily basis while driving the long commute into Nashville five to six days a week. It begins with the interstate drive, the twists and turns around Nashville and the outskirts like Gallatin, Brentwood, Antioch and Hendersonville. The people walking the streets in their sporting attire, the car in front with the professional sports license plate and the random stickers, placards, flags and stencils that show the support of the community behind their favorite sports team.
From this humble observer, there is a franchise that has an enormous advantage in the Music City as of this writing: the Nashville Predators.
Granted, it is not even close to football season. It’s far from hockey season (aside from the small glimpse of Nashville’s future performers and recent draft picks and trade acquisitions). Still a couple of months away from Predators Training Camp with the Titans camp coming up in just a few weeks, it is a fair and even playing field with an uncontaminated sampling pool in the greater Nashville area.
With a 35-45 minute drive every morning and a multitude of driving all over Nashville and the outlying areas, I have noticed a stark difference in memorabilia and accoutrements between Predators and Titans fan support with official (or unofficial) merchandise.
First major difference: license plates. Predator license plates, new and old, are everywhere. With these license plates that support the Predators Foundation, many fans are able to pay a little extra every year to show their fandom and fund a great charity that raises money for numerous charities in the Nashville area. The Titans plate also supports the Titans Foundation which helps numerous local charities like the above mentioned and the TDOT website warns that the Titans plates should be ordered promptly to ensure availability. With that kind of endorsement from the Dept. of Transportation, the amount of Titans license plates should be running rampant in my travels. But within a month of watching out for pro sports license plates, I have seen only two Titans plates. I regularly see five to six Predators license plates every day. I have seen more Vanderbilt and UT plates than Titans plates in the last month.
The next difference is the amount of decorations on the car and apparel worn by people in and around Nashville. In the apparel department, it is almost a dead heat between the Titans and the Predators, although I have seen many of the free, gold playoff shirts out and about. On their cars, Predators fans seem to have a multitude of stickers, logos, laser-cut front plates and window clings, typically two to three each, on said car. Titans fans typically have one sticker and more often than not also have a Predators sticker on the back window across from the Titans sword or Three-Star helmet logo.
What may have caused this dissension in the ranks of a town that many say is ruled by football? The NFL will always (aside from a huge unforeseen collapse) be the biggest ticket sports item in any city it occupies. The Titans still sell-out most of their games despite less than stellar seasons in three of the last four years (in 2011, 9-7 record, missed playoffs). Missing the playoffs since 2008 has Titans fans losing faith and the team looks to be rebuilding yet again this season. Has this absence from post-season play impacted the team support?
Looking at the Predators, after an abysmal season that had them dead last in the Central Division and picking fourth in the 2013 draft, the team as a whole has accomplished high acclaim for making the playoffs seven out of the last nine years. Since the last time the Titans made the playoffs, the Predators have been in the running three times and made it to the second round twice (Titans haven’t been to second round of playoffs since 2008 as division champs).
Some negativity has been swirling about the Predators this season and their lackluster performance that netted them their highest draft pick since their inaugural season. An article in The Tennessean by Josh Cooper has shown that after the lockout shortened season, the Predators gave away on average 1900 tickets per game. This may have been a good strategy for the Predators to keep interest after the lockout and with the Predators playoffs hopes diminishing in a disastrous April string of losses. The real question becomes if the Predators continue to play like they did in the 2012-2013 season, are they in jeopardy of disappearing around town in fan support? Tickets? Merchandise?
The old adage that Predators fans and Titans fans can cling to begrudgingly is “This town loves a winner.” Will this continue for the Predators if they can make it back to the Stanley Cup playoffs? If the Titans begin to turn things around, will it re-invigorate the fans and begin to make strides into their outward showing support that the Predators are enjoying right now? Time will tell when the puck drops and the kickoffs commence in a few months but until then take a look around while driving or people watching at your favorite food-truck or trendy eatery and keep a tally yourself. You may be surprised which team is getting more of the outward show of love in Music City.