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ESPN Ranks Predators as No. 1 Franchise in All Sports

Preds Deliver Best Fan Experience, Value in Sports According to ESPN

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten /

When Tom Cigarran put together an ownership group to take control of the Nashville Predators franchise in 2010, one of the first things he did in those early days was eliminate a certain word from the organization's vocabulary.


No longer would the Predators say they couldn't accomplish something. Instead, the focus would center on what the goal was and what would be the best way to fulfill it.

Seven years later, "no" still doesn't get uttered, and because of that, the state of the franchise has never been better. And the outside continues to take notice.

On Monday, ESPN named the Predators as the best franchise - not just in the NHL - but in all of professional sports. It's a humbling designation, but also one that is worked toward 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and sometimes more than that.

The honor comes on the heels of Nashville's home venue, Bridgestone Arena, being named Arena of the Year by the International Entertainment Buyers Association (IEBA) during their 2017 Industry Awards ceremony last week.

ESPN's Ultimate Standings compiled fan surveys and financial analysis to determine which franchises give back the most to fans. Customer service, ticket prices, social media engagement, website and app accessibility and usage were just some of the categories listed as to why the Predators received the top spot.

And according to Predators President and CEO Sean Henry, it's obvious who would be at the top of his list during an acceptance speech.

"I talk this way because it's true, and I'll argue with anybody who disagrees with me on this point, but this doesn't happen without the best fans in sports," Henry said. "We need to make more of them, we need to continue to grow that base, but our fans have taken it on in a very serious fashion that they own this organization, they're part of the organization."

Since 2014, the Predators rose each year in the ESPN Ultimate Standings Rankings, pitted against 121 other professional sports franchises from the NHL, NFL, MLB and NBA. Nashville went from 40th in 2014, 27th in 2015 and came in 6th in 2016, including the No. 2 spot in the NHL.

Perhaps most rewarding of the 2016 rankings were the designations of the top spot in fan relations, affordability and stadium experience, the three categories directly related to those who wear the logo and support the Preds through and through.

Between full-time, part-time and event staff, plus players and coaches, Henry estimates there are almost 1,000 individuals who work to build something special for those fans on a daily basis, with one attribute rising above the rest.

"Everyone buys into the fact that we can be the best at what we do if we all do certain small things, and the biggest one is trust each other," Henry said. "Every day, we come in and evaluate how we did and see what we can do better. That's not always easy to look at yourself and say, 'what could I have done better?' It's even harder sometimes to turn to the person next to you and say, 'we could've done this better.' But that's what we have, and whether people realize it or not, that's what they're doing."

That mindset is working, and once more, it comes back to the Gold-clad individuals to reach ear-splitting decibel levels inside of their home Arena.

"We always say our fans propel our team to victories and that sort of thing, but at the same time with the franchise, they push each one of our employees forward," Henry said. "What we're most proud of is the relationship with our fans, the environment in the building and affordability, because it's a balancing act and it's nice to be sitting here right now."

So, what's next now that the Predators have earned this distinction? There is still an ultimate goal that hasn't been attained quite yet, and while that work is already underway in 2017-18, there are always ways to get better off the ice, too.

That's just the way it's done in Nashville, and it's the only way everyone - from Cigarran all the way down to the entry-level ticket salesman - knows how to operate.

"It's actually easier to get to the point where you're considered the best, but we all think we can be better and that's what excites me," Henry said. "As soon as you win an award, there are a lot of people out there who want to explain why you didn't deserve it. So, it's going to be fun this year and next year to maintain that level and build upon it."

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