Root for the Nashville Predators and you get the feeling of trashing your archrival's car. That's no metaphor. Before every home playoff game in Nashville, a local artist named Audie Adams paints a vehicle in the colors and logo of the Preds' opponent, and for a small donation to the club's charitable foundation, fans can step up with a sledgehammer and bash the thing to pieces. This goofy ritual is a timely reminder that sports at their best let us hate without being hateful. And it's a small but fun example of why the Predators deliver more value to their fans than any other team in North America. If we were still running ESPN's Ultimate Standings -- which compiled fan surveys and financial analysis to determine which franchises give back the most to fans -- there's no question who would rank No. 1 this year. Nashville made the Stanley Cup finals while charging middle-of-the-pack ticket prices. Beyond that bang for the buck, the Preds deliver eye-popping customer service. In our most recent polls, Nashville topped all NHL clubs in engaging fans through social media, delivering information via mobile devices, making it easy to use the team website and providing avenues for feedback. Buy a Predators ticket and you'll receive an email telling you about promotions at your game and who's singing at intermissions. Send questions back about parking or food allergies and you'll get a personal reply. "We are in a dialogue with every fan who comes through our gates," says CEO Sean Henry, who has been figuring out how to take care of crowds since he started his career as a busboy at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island, New York. Nashville was one of the NHL's wobbly forays into the Sun Belt under commissioner Gary Bettman, and a decade ago the franchise was in serious trouble. Bleeding cash, the Predators were so close to moving to Hamilton, Ontario, that season-ticket deposits were being made there. And even after fans rallied to keep the team in Music City, prompting civic leaders and local sponsors to help, it turned out that part-owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio had used fraudulent loans to buy his share of the club. (He wound up bankrupt and spent time in prison.) Things began to turn around in 2010, when former health care executive Thomas Cigarran took over as chairman. Under Cigarran, Henry and chief revenue officer Chris Junghans, the Predators have balanced the demands of existing fans with the need to keep cultivating new followers in a nontraditional hockey market. This season Nashville says its season-ticket sales are up more than 30 percent, but the team still reserves about 3,000 tickets per game for individual or group sales. Management has also empowered David Poile, the NHL's reigning GM of the year. Before last season, Poile traded Shea Weber for younger, cheaper and just-as-great P.K. Subban. This summer he signed or re-signed Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson, Nick Bonino and Austin Watson -- all to contracts of different lengths, layering potential defections the Preds will face in the future.
The Predators are the best franchise in sports
ESPN | Oct 24