If there were any doubts that Nashville is a hockey town, they were dispelled on a hot July day.
More than 7,500 rowdy fans attended a rally Thursday night at the Sommet Center to “Save the Predators.” The event was the highlight of an all-day ticket-thon that produced almost 800 new sales in season tickets and partial season tickets.
“We left the air with 714 tickets sold, but I think we will have final tally of between 750 and 800,” said George Plaster, sports director of 104.5 The Zone, one of the main supporters of the ticket-thon and rally. “I really feel great. There was a lot of work put into this by a lot of people. I know I have never worked harder on a project.
“I’m stunned at the response. This has been a great day for hockey in Nashville.”
The tickets were bought by a cross-section of the Middle Tennessee area with tickets being sold in both the lower and upper bowls. The mix included both full season tickets and partial season tickets.
“This had exceeded all expectations,” said Ron Samuels, chairman of the Our Team group and chairman of Avenue Bank. “We set a goal and kind of challenged each other that 300 would be successful and 500 would be knocking it out of the park. Everybody is excited about this.
“It has been a widespread grassroots and business effort. A lot of the lower bowl has sold and that is very encouraging. We are very much appreciative of everybody’s support.”
The ticket-thon and rally were broadcast beginning at 6 a.m. and continued until 9 p.m. on 104.5 The Zone, the Predators’ flagship station. There was a steady stream of fans all day long at the Sommet Center.
Future looks bright
David Freeman, Herb Fritch, Sam Bartholomew, and Chase Cole — members of the local group trying to purchase the Predators — were all present for the rally.
Freeman had said earlier in the week that his group would be closely watching the rally. He and Cole and other members of the group met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman Wednesday morning.
“We are all extremely pleased with the rally, but it was not unexpected,” Freeman, CEO of 36 Venture Capital. “As we told the commissioner, there is no question in our minds that the City of Nashville wants to keep this club, and given the opportunity the city will do that. And we are well on our way.
“The nice thing is everything is in the hands of Nashville residents now. Everything that needs to happen we control. We certainly owe Craig Leipold a tremendous thank you for showing that faith in us as a community and his willingness to take a risk on us. He has given us this shot. He is willing to see what we are going to do with it.”
Governor Phil Bredesen said he was at the event to support his wife, Andrea Conte. Bredesen was instrumental in bringing the Predators to Nashville when he was mayor. He and his wife are both hockey fans.
“We had four season tickets, but Andrea bought four more during the rally,” said Bredesen. “She got carried away. We are going to have to find some more friends.”
Conte was one of the featured speakers at the rally. She echoed the sentiment of everyone in attendance that Hamilton, Ontario, and Kansas City, Mo., can have NHL teams, but they can’t take Nashville’s away.
“I was more involved here as a fan,” Bredesen said. “My wife has been involved with this and I am really here as her spouse.
“We have three major league sports teams in this state and I am supportive of them all. But as Governor I need to keep more distance from it. But as a fan, it is after 5 o’clock. I don’t mind taking my Governor’s hat off and coming out here and being part of the crowd.”
Bredesen said he was willing to help the local ownership group as much as possible, but that he has to be careful with his involvement.
“I can’t use the Governor’s office for that,” Bredesen said. “But as an individual, and certainly as someone who was up to his eyebrows in getting the team here in the first place, I am going to work to keep the team here.
“If it means going up and talking to Gary Bettman, I am willing to do that. These teams are good for their cities. I think it is important that they stay here. I would do the same thing for the other two teams.”
Bredesen plans to meet with the local ownership group sometime next week.
David Legwand, the first player drafted by the Predators, was surprised to see such a large crowd.
“This was quite the buzz they had going here,” Legwand said. “The rally is over and people are still here picking tickets out. It was a great turnout. It was phenomenal to see.”
New jerseys unveiled
Vernon Fiddler, Ryan Suter and Legwand gave Predators fans a first look at the new jerseys the team will wear for the 2007-2008 season. The jerseys are being furnished to every team in the NHL by Reebok.
“They are a little tight,” Legwand said. “It takes a little while to get used to them.”