Nashville Radio Host Discusses Level Of Excitement Locally Surrounding Predators
The Predators' run to the Western Conference Finals has brought with it an atmosphere at Bridgestone Arena that has been described as lively and deafening. The enthusiasm for the Predators in Music City peaked during Thursday night's Western Conference Finals Game Four, which set an arena attendance record of 17,423. With the series tied 2-2, Nashville is already prepping for Game Six on Monday night. Fox Sports Tennessee's Willy Daunic spoke with THE DAILY about the excitement level in the city right now and whether that can be sustained in a non-traditional hockey market. Some answers have been edited for brevity or clarity.
Q: What's the vibe and level of excitement around the city of Nashville right now surrounding this team?
Daunic: It's really incredible. For me, it's extra special because you can find a few of us who have been around from the beginning (in '98) in some form or fashion. I was a young sports talk show host who latched on as the pre- and postgame show host back then and it's just amazing the growth curve of the fan base. There are two things going on right now. You have a much broader casual audience jumping on board who want to be a part of it and want to know what’s going on. The other dynamic is the fan base that's been around for a long time, whether from the beginning or 10 years ago when the ownership changed and it looked like the franchise was kind of teetering. It's so satisfying for them and there’s a hunger to go all the way -- you can sense it.
Q: What was the atmosphere like in Bridgestone Arena during the first-round home games against the Blackhawks and how did that series win affect the fan base?
Daunic: They've been such a great, successful team that has knocked the Predators out (of the playoffs) a couple of times. It was so invigorating for the fans to be able to get over the hump and not only beat them, but sweep them. That (series win) really vaulted everyone to another level of confidence, from the players all the way through the crowd, in that belief that you can win the whole thing.
Q: Nashville is not really seen as a "traditional" hockey market being in the South, but do you see this level of excitement and passion for the team as sustainable?
Daunic: I do. We went through that period of ownership change -- this summer will be the 10-year anniversary since that change. It was a critical time for the franchise and the current ownership group came together and basically saved the team. But there was also a rally and a decision by the community that said, 'Hey, maybe we took this team for granted for a while, but we’ve got to make sure we don’t lose this asset,' and that's when I think that core (fan base) became stronger. But now 10 years later, you've basically got a generation of young fans who have grown up with this team. They don’t know any different. The Predators have always had to work really hard to find as many ways as they could to bring you in, because once you get in there and see the entertainment product not just on the ice but what they do around the game with the presentation, they hook you. Now you're through one generation of fans and you've got their kids who are going into the workforce, who are coming back home from college. Now they're having kids and bringing them to games.
Q: How does the rise of the Predators compare to that of the Titans when they made their Super Bowl run in '99? Or maybe even compared to now with the buzz surrounding the team and Marcus Mariota?
Daunic: When the new stadium opened in '99 and they officially became the Titans, they made the Super Bowl the first year. There was this instant explosion of football fans who had a winner right away, they had a great nucleus of young guys and for about five years, it was unbelievable. The Titans didn't have to build from scratch and build the fan base, it was almost effortless for them back then. Now fast forward to this period of time when they haven’t made the playoffs since '08, it’s gotten to the point where they’re now having to start working to get the fans here. I think the Titans are starting to realize building that connection with your fans goes a long way. I think they're starting to come back around, but it's been interesting because even though it's football and it’s the Southeast, there's no substitute for building that emotional connection with the fans.