SPORTS ANALYSIS: Nashville sports stood tall on Tuesday

Thursday, February 14, 2008 at 2:17am

On a cold, dreary February night that would eventually ice over car windshields, Nashville sports fans had little to do other than retreat to the warmth of their homes and grab the remote control.

This was no typical Tuesday night, though. The viewing options were juicy and compelling.

On Lower Broadway, the Nashville Predators took on the Detroit Red Wings. A few miles away on West End Avenue, Memorial Gym was the site of a Vanderbilt-Kentucky basketball clash.

Long-time Nashvillians struggled to recall a winter night – or any night, for that matter – when two bigger games were played simultaneously in this city.

In the NHL, few teams stir the passions of opposing fans like the Red Wings. In college basketball, Kentucky is viewed by many as the Evil Empire.

The Sommet Center was sold out, and 15,692 fans watched the Preds claim a 4-2 victory. Memorial Gym, packed to the rafters with 14,325 fans, was rocking as the Commodores administered a 93-52 beatdown.

Not surprising that both arenas were sold out. Anything less would have been shocking.

Here’s what is surprising, if not stunning: In Nashville’s 49-county television viewer area, the basketball game drew a 5.5 television rating, while the hockey game came in at 0.1.

Each rating point represents 9,662 homes. Do the math. More than 50,000 homes had the basketball game on, while less than 1,000 tuned in to hockey.

How should these numbers be interpreted? Is Vanderbilt that much more popular in this area than the Predators? Maybe not.

“I think the bases of Preds fans and Vanderbilt fans are pretty comparable,” said Willy Daunic, a co-host on the afternoon sports-talk show on 104.5-FM. “They are both extremely loyal bases.”

Daunic might be one who would know. He played basketball for the Commodores in the early 1990s and now hosts the Predators’ pre-game and post-game shows on his radio station.

The difference, Daunic believes, is the interest in the two sports, not the two teams. That difference is seen in what callers on talk shows wish to discuss.

“We have more discussion on college basketball as a broad topic,” Daunic said. “We don’t have that broad interest in the NHL.”

To me, what it means is the truly passionate Predators fans have tickets and attend the games – and there simply aren’t many more of them left over.

College basketball, however, is different. Our city is jammed with Kentucky fans or those who just enjoy the sport. Even a Tennessee fan, huddled by the fireplace Tuesday, might have been willing to flip on ESPN and watch Vanderbilt and Kentucky square off.

In Nashville, a casual sports fan isn’t likely to watch hockey because it’s a sport that has yet to be ingrained into our cultural fabric. A Flyers-Islanders NHL game Tuesday in Nashville on the Versus network had a zero rating. Literally, nobody was watching.

“The typical Predators fan is someone who moved in from somewhere where they grew up with it,” Daunic said.

Nonetheless, TV ratings can’t be ignored, especially when they are lopsided as they were Tuesday. Local stations use them to help shape, but not dictate, their coverage.

On Tuesday, the sports staff as WTVF-Channel 5 met and determined that its evening broadcast would lead with Vanderbilt coverage first and the Predators second regardless of the outcomes of the two games.

“After being in this business for so many years, I just go on gut feel,” said Hope Hines, WTVF sports director. “You have to make a decision at some point, and apparently the viewership agreed with us.”

Predators fans don’t always take this sitting down. Many call local radio and TV stations to voice their displeasure. At that point, Hines said, reality must be handed out.

“Sometimes you just say, ‘Hey, let me be honest with you. This is why we do what we do,’” Hines said.

I’m of the opinion that entertainment options – TV ratings aside – are healthy for a city. I don’t know anything about hockey [isn’t icing what you put on a cake?], but I believe Nashville is a better city with the Predators here.

Even while I covered the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game on Tuesday, it was refreshing to know another important sporting event was taking place down the street. Variation is good. Otherwise we’d be Tuscaloosa or Gainesville where we all think about and discuss the same topic 24 hours a day.

Throughout any given winter, Vanderbilt basketball consistently draws higher TV ratings than the Predators, but does that really matter? Nashville should be big enough to support both teams. If you think you’re big time, then act big time.

Tuesday, however you cut it, was a big-time night in Nashville.

Brett Hait covers Vanderbilt and the Southeastern Conference for The City Paper. He can be reached at bhait@nashvillecitypaper.com.

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By: frank brown on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Brett, You now have published the facts that made Liepold sell and leave town. Other than the cultists and fanatics ice hockey is a non-sport in Nashville. (at least as far as making a profit for the owners of an NHL franchise)

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Do the Predators receive money from the ratings on Versus? Does it surprise anyone that a city that has a team in the Western Conference would not tune in for two teams from the East? The article should have mentioned how many sports bars were carrying the Preds game, or touched on how many people have Center Ice and were watching the game as well.If figures that Frank the whiner would complain, even when the game's a sellout.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It said it was a sellout, the attendance was 15,692, doesn't it hold 18,000? I thought they always published actual seats sold not actual attendance. Either way it was still a very good crowd.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It's the same with Titans games T1, their sellouts always come with empty seats.But at least the Preds sold out, thats good.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Thanks, I was hoping that was the case. Tuesday night was a big night for Nashville sports. I was wearing out the remote. Props to the Preds and Vandy!

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I'm one of the few natives that loves hockey, and when I'm not at the game, I'm watching it on television, despite what the article indicates.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The arena holds 17,113 for hockey. The Red Wings game was not a sellout.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Also, Hope Hines wouldn't know a hockey puck if it hit him in the face.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I get my hockey news on NHL network. Nashville doesn't understand how to cover professional sports.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Agreed. I would argue they don't know how to cover sports period. But, this town has only had pro sports for 10 years or so, so that's why they suk at it. I grew up in Nashville and I'd rather watch hockey than football and basketball combined.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Same here.

By: jwk6179 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I was in Sports bar on Tuesday night that has at least a dozen televisions and everyone of those TV's except for one was on the Vandy-Kentucky game. They only television set that had the Predators' game on was stuck back in the corner and I don't really think anyone was really paying attention to it, either. And that wasn't the first time I went into that Sports bar when the Predators had a game on television that only one television was on the hockey. There have been numerous times that the Preds had a game televised and not one TV was on the game.

By: slzy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

can anyone find out how many people do get center ice?

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

What's the name of the bar, that way I can avoid it.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I went to two different restaurants in Hendersonville on Saturday night to watch Preds/Sharks and both places could not even find the Preds games on their TVs. But, they had Louisville/Georgetown basketball going on all of them. They must leave them on ESPN all day and never change the channel. We even called the restaurant that holds the Preds Chill Out parties and they couldn't find the game.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

It was on FSS, but it didn't come on until 9 or 930. I watched it.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Oh, I know. We kept telling them it was on that channel, but they were clueless. It came on at 9pm. I hate to say it, but I think the NHL needs to get back on ESPN. Maybe with that, restaurants would be more likely to show games.

By: jwk6179 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

But ESPN doesn't want the NHL. The reason the NHL went to VS. in the first place was because their contract with ESPN up and ESPN stated they had no room on their Networks for the NHL and had NO DESIRE to find room for the NHL, either.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think the NHL network's availablity will help. For the casual fan, they can learn the game and the history with shows like Classic Series, and all the Top Ten lists.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

jwk, there are many reports out there saying that ESPN does want the NHL back and that it's only a matter of time before it happens. If NBC opts out, which many think they will, then ESPN will pick it back up. I was all for the Versus move, but it has not worked. In fact, it has done more harm than good. Yes, the 30 franchises got a couple million dollars a year out of it, but we need to be on the real sports channel that everyone knows how to find.

By: jwk6179 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Between College Baskball on both the men's and women's side, the NBA, NASCAR, Golf, Tennis, Major League Baseball, the NFL, College Football, MSL soccer and the World Poker Championships, where are they going to find time and a channel to show the NHL? I never stated that ESPN didn't want the NHL back, I stated that was the reason ESPN gave the NHL when they dropped them several years ago.

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

jwk, I think we are on the same page, but you say that you never stated that ESPN didn't want the NHL back, but I read three posts up: "But ESPN doesn't want the NHL." I understand the reasoning for them giving it up several years ago, but I do think they want it back.

By: gdiafante on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I've heard both sides. I liked it when it was on ESPN. You had a better variety of games, a lot of double headers, better announcers and coverage, NHL 2nite etc. The good ole days...

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Oh, the good ole days . . .

By: slzy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

was it the rangers on MSG-TV that had 321 households in the tri-state area tuned into a rangers-panthers game?

By: OneTimer on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I think it was the Devils. I think.

By: MJB on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Hockey is a good & interesting sport. If it doesn't cost us $$, then I'm glad to have a pro team here. HOWEVER: Hockey is NOT GOOD on t.v. It never has been, and it won't be until t.v. viewing becomes much better. Soccer is the same way. Unless you grew up w/ soccer, watching a game on t.v. is a snore-fest. Watching either hockey or soccer at the arena or field, however, is riveting. Some sports--football & basketball, in particular--are good on the tube; others, like baseball can be when well directed; still others will only appeal to real fans & those of us (I'm from the northeast) bred w/ the game.Hockey can survive here on slowly increasing ratings & good ticket sales.

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

I have never been to a Preds game, but I can get into it on tv, I have no problem with it. I was wearing out my remote between the Preds and Vandy game, but what I saw of the Preds game, I enjoyed very much. Now soccer, IMHO, BORING!

By: slzy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

actually, the last minutes in regulation of a one goal game is as exciting as any thing in sports.

By: slzy on 12/31/69 at 6:00

i thought fox "illuminated" puck was a good idea,but it was prohibitively expensive.overhead camera angles would be good ,too.