Gary Bettman passes through Nashville from time to time. Last October, it was to announce the location of the 2016 NHL All-Star Weekend. Most recently, it was to take in Game Two of the Nashville Predators Western Conference Quarterfinals series against the Chicago Blackhawks.
For the Commissioner of the National Hockey League, a position he’s held since February of 1993, visits to the Music City always come with a dose of southern hospitality, a trait Bettman speaks highly of when in Middle Tennessee.
In fact, Bettman lists that attribute as one of the main reasons the NHL is bringing the 2016 mid-season classic to Nashville this coming January. Plus, the Predators really wanted the game here. That helped matters, too.
“We know the hospitality, the organization and the support is going to be first rate, and it’s why we’re thrilled to be here with the [Predators] on a regular basis,” Bettman said. “This is a wonderful arena, the facilities are great and having some musical connection for the [All-Star] Weekend certainly won’t hurt. I think there’s star appeal for us being here, and I think that’s why everybody’s excited to be coming.”
Nashville’s impressive new convention center, the Music City Center, also helped immensely in garnering the attention of the League to look at the city as a viable option to host the event. Bettman explained that the timing of the Music City Center’s completion played a large role in determining when Nashville could and would play host to All-Star Weekend.
The MCC will hold the NHL’s Fan Fest for the weekend, a signature component of All-Star Weekend, and with the size of the building across the street from Bridgestone Arena, the possibilities are plentiful.
“My guess is tens of thousands of people, both from out of town and people in Nashville, will come and have an opportunity to touch All-Star Weekend and touch our game, even if they’re not going to be at the All-Star Game itself, or even the Skills Competition,” Bettman said. “It’s just another way for us to bring hockey and the NHL family to this great community.”
The Predators relationship with Bridgestone Americas Inc., as well as the NHL’s partnership with the same corporation, is also one that has played a role in bringing the game to Nashville.
“They’ve been greatly supportive of the League and our events,” Bettman said of Bridgestone Americas. “I know it was important to them that we host an All-Star Game in Bridgestone Arena, and they’ve obviously been a great partner for the Predators. With Bridgestone [Americas] based in Nashville, what a great natural match it is, both for the Predators and the All-Star Game.”
The Predators’ ownership group, Predators Holdings LLC, led by Chairman Tom Cigarran, has provided stability to Nashville’s franchise since taking over in 2007. The group was instrumental in putting together a bid to the League for the All-Star Game, and has not only succeeded in that project, but also continues to bring cohesion and balance to the hockey club.
“They’re committed; they’re devoting the resources and the franchise is being run in the right way,” Bettman said. “As important, they’re very involved in the community and hockey at all levels. That’s the hallmark of a well-run franchise.”
As the state of the Preds franchise continues to elevate, the League itself is also in outstanding shape. Bettman believes that multitasking and constant exploration of different avenues to cultivate new fans is key in the growth of the game.
“I never tend to focus on one thing,” Bettman said. “There are lots of components to a League’s activities. We just want to keep doing more and more so that people can connect with this game as they have in the past, but in record numbers and in more ways than ever before.
“The League has never been stronger by any measure. The game on the ice has never been more entertaining, more compelling, more exciting and the competitive balance we have is extraordinary. It’s the best in our history and probably the best in all of sports when the game is healthy…the vital signs are all good, but perhaps as importantly, I think the best is still in front of us.”
The hope is that the best is still to come for the Preds, too. Bettman, as well as the rest of the League, will continue to prepare for their stop in Nashville next January. And once that’s complete, perhaps the Commissioner will pass through with a piece of silver to skate around sometime soon.
“[The Predators are] a team that’s built the right way for the long term,” Bettman said. “I think fans have every reason to be excited and have great anticipation about the future of this franchise.”