By Chris Emma–
(CBS) When the Blackhawks take the ice in Nashville next Tuesday, the Predators will hold hope that they have a sound home-ice advantage at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators have been known to go to great lengths to “keep the red out” of their arena. This campaign dates back to at least 2013, when the Predators attempted to dissuade Blackhawks fans from visiting by not offering single-game tickets to Predators-Blackhawks contests; to get a ticket to that contest, a two-game packet had to purchased. Later that season in the first round of the playoffs, the Predators required tickets to be purchased locally and in person.
In another move of gamesmanship, the Predators played “God Bless America” instead of the customary national anthem prior to an October 2014 game, in an effort to prevent Blackhawks fans from cheering during the rendition, as is their tradition.
Now, the Predators are at it again. For Tuesday’s contest against the Blackhawks, only fans with credit-card billing addresses in Tennessee and the television-viewing area — Kentucky, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia — will be permitted to purchase tickets. Orders by residents outside the viewing area can be canceled without notice, in which case refunds will be given.
The Predators may in some cases also require the original purchaser to present the credit card used and a photo ID with a matching name before being allowed into the arena, according to the Chicago Tribune, thus preventing sales on the secondary market.
This isn’t sitting well with many in Chicago — and at least one agency in Nashville as well.
Butch Spyridon has been president of the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp (NCVC) since 1991, leading a $5.4 billion hospitality industry. The city has boomed into a destination for visitors, offering live music 365 days a year.
The reaction of the Predators’ ticketing deal has irked his tourism bureau.
“Any time it’s made hard for anybody to visit, it’s not a good thing,” Spyridon said. “I can put my Predator hat on and understand what we’re tyring to do, but we need to get to a better way to accomplish a better goal to ensure they have a home-ice advantage — I’d like that, but I’d love visitors a shade more. We have to figure it out.”
Officials from the Predators and NHL didn’t respond for comment to this story.
Nashville’s tourism industry continues to increase in numbers each year, with Chicago often being the No. 1 market for incoming tourists. Spyridon recalled the weekend of a Blackhawks visit to Nashville in which a stretch of local bars ran out of domestic beer.
The NCVC has attempted to work with the Predators on a better solution than preventing outside ticket purchases — and, in turn, tourism dollars — but the team works as a private business.
“Obviously, we love visitors and we love Chicago visitors,” Spyridon said. “I understand from a business standpoint what they’re tyring to do, but we want to convey a friendly and welcoming environment. We’re not exactly on the same page.
“We’ve had ongoing conversations with (the Predators). We don’t have any input into their ultimate decision, but they obviously are aware that it doesn’t fit with our mission, and we do know that other game around the league have similar policies. It’s just, Nashville works so well with Chicago as far as destination; it’s one of our top markets.”
Blackhawks fans travel in droves with their team, which is vying for its fourth Stanley Cup championship in the past seven seasons. Chicago’s home to a modern hockey dynasty — but that impact is felt on the road, too, with strong Blackhawks turnouts for each game.
During recent years, the Predators have risen to respectability in the Central Division and quickly have become one of the Blackhawks’ bigger rivals. In the eyes of the NCVC, that doesn’t mean being inhospitable to visitors.
“We would do everything we can to convey that it’s not a Nashville decision, it’s a Predators team decision, and those are two very distinct differences,” Spyridon said. “I can’t demand policies of private business.
“It’s a method that’s worked for them, but it’s not a method we would endorse.”
Ultimately, it’s the Predators’ business decision to keep their tickets to local fans — a direct attempt to keep Blackhawks fans out. Visitors will have to be creative in finding a way into Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators are at 98.6 percent capacity this season, per ESPN.com, averaging 16,881 fans.
Not every agency shares the view of Spyridon and the NCVC.
The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce had no worry about the Predators’ ticket policy.
“Given that 17 of the team’s 21 home games this season have been sellouts, the Predators have been a ‘tougher ticket’ for hockey fans in Nashville as well as Chicago,” Chamber of Commerce communications director Mark Drury wrote in an email. “Nashville annually hosts more than 13 million visitors, and our hospitality sector is a $5.5-billion dollar industry for our city. Even if you can’t get tickets to the hockey game, we fully believe a visit to Nashville is well worth it.”
Spyridon and the NCVC remind that Nashville is an eight-hour drive or one-hour flight from Chicago, and it’s the home of live music and fun. It appears the Predators’ business practice doesn’t align with the welcoming southern hospitality created in the popular destination.
Spyridon reminded of a familiar Nashville line that warmly welcomes Chicagoans and others with an inviting message:
“Come Honky Tonking with us.”