Craig, if you will pardon me for being so informal, I felt the need to write to you once again. I haven’t written since November 4th, 2004. The league was in the midst of the lockout at that time, and I felt compelled to write to you regarding my support of the key role you were playing in obtaining a CBA for the league that would put all franchises on near-equal footing. I also spoke of several other areas that the league needed to focus their attention on during the downtime- officiating and marketing being the two of largest significance. I snail-mailed that letter to you and was grateful for your straightforward and detailed response via snail-mail.
Obviously, it is another momentous occasion in Predators’ history that has prompted this latest effort on my part- that being the impending sale of the franchise. I write this to recognize the good things you have done and will be leaving behind with your sale of the franchise. I mainly write this to express my gratitude.
In a time when there are so many things wrong with the NHL, there are and were so many things you either implemented or championed that were right. Today, you and Jim Balsillie are the focus of a lot of emotion from Nashville Predator fans- both justified and misdirected. I believe you fully understand and empathize with those emotions, but I suspect it hurts nonetheless. There’s a very political aspect in owning a team- from being very careful of what is said out of necessity, to life presenting an opportunity that was completely unexpected and contradictory to a previous statement. When those things do occur and tough decisions have to be made, particularly those that affect one’s own family, it can sometimes hurt more to make what is felt to be the right decision knowing that there are ramifications on others. In this trying time for both you and the fans of this team, I felt it appropriate to highlight some of the things you’ve done that have made this team different and its fans different.
It must begin with actually bringing the franchise to Nashville. Many of the fans of this franchise never followed the game of hockey prior to the Predators arrival, including myself. While there are the emotional highs and lows of following an expansion team on the ice, there is something to be said from seeing one’s franchise being born and watching it grow from year to year, struggling to raise its level of success every year. We were also fortunate to be in the same division as the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Detroit Red Wings. Having a fellow expansion team in our own division, and only a short distance away, gave us the feeling of having a twin (fraternal) brother. We fought mightily against each other. We then rallied together as fans to support beating up on our bigger brother in Detroit. That is a special experience that will hopefully continue. For being the shepherd of that experience, I thank you.
I also thank you for bringing in an excellent staff to run the hockey operations. David Poile, Barry Trotz, Ray Shero, and many others have provided a stabilizing effect on this young expansion team. While being great hockey people they are, more importantly, great people.
One of the most special things you have brought to this team is a sense of personal connection. You were very quick to respond to my letter in 2004. While I’ve not met you personally, many say that you love to talk hockey with fans on the concourse. I have met Randy Campbell and Bryan Shaffer to discuss the marketing of the team specifically and the NHL in general. I must admit to have been taken aback at getting a response from Mr. Campbell within five minutes of sending an email regarding my very first article on PredNation.com (Rink of Dreams). I was, and am, nothing more than a message board poster that found an outlet for my opinions on PredNation.com. Both gentlemen were great ambassadors for the team during our discussion over lunch. This type of connection allows the fans of this team something that most other teams do not offer. Being a member of the most popular Detroit Red Wings message board (love talking hockey with the opposition), they have always expressed envy over the access a Nashville fan has to its team. How many owners would take the time to take a fourteen year old little girl to the locker room to obtain an autographed game-used stick from her favorite player (thank you Ally for that wonderful story)? For that connection to our team, I thank you.
While I could thank you for many things, I’ll end with this: thank you for the pivotal role you played in the 2004 CBA negotiations. While you entered a great sport in 1997 with the Predators franchise, you also entered a league that had undergone an enormous amount of franchise instability during that ten year period with expansion and franchise relocation in an effort to court that large American television contract. Unfortunately, the NHL did not follow up the franchise instability by helping those new owners (particularly in the non-traditional markets) establish their teams in their new markets. In hindsight, given the current state of marketing in the NHL, they couldn’t handle it then. Having lived and learned, your work on making the next CBA better for all franchises in the long run, and better for the league, was impressive. Galvanizing a group that fell apart in 1995, the measures achieved in this CBA were truly impressive. It truly was the first step for a league that was teetering on that precipice. You helped lay the groundwork that, if continued work is done in other areas, will prove to have saved the league. For that, I can’t thank you enough.
Now the league must continue to win back support and continue to increase revenues in non-artificial avenues (like milking the ticket price increase so much that a backlash occurs in areas like Detroit for this years playoffs). This brings us back to marketing the league and continuing that push for an American television contract, or contracts. Shift the focus of running commercials advertising the NHL to those people already watching a game on Versus to those watching football on Sundays, or baseball, or auto racing. Find another network to air even more games, like TNT, that has an established history airing sports material and already has a high definition feed on most cable and satellite companies. Bring that network into the discussions on how to make the game better for television- whether that is helmet cams, microphones, or no helmets during the shootout. Embrace high definition- did you know that Predators’ games on HDNet were always blacked out if the game was carried on FSN? The league should quit embracing bleeding-edge technology (like games via the internet) as their savior. It’s a great thing, and should be done, but it looks desperate to be advertising something like that as a savior to the league.
I was looking forward to seeing you step up to that challenge as you did with the CBA. I truly hate that you will not have that opportunity. That said, I also understand that one can reach a point where it’s very difficult to keep “fighting the waves”. That can happen, particularly if some needed support isn’t given. I suspect that there is always a fight in the league office to incorporate change- and change is needed. That’s hard enough to fight itself, but when the Nashville corporate community and city leadership fail to provide that support “at home”, it makes it doubly tough.
Regardless of what happens with this franchise, it is a disservice to the league to lose an owner like you who has done so much for the league, and for the fans of this franchise. I wish the drain, both emotionally and financially, wasn’t what it was. I hope the league continues along the path you helped pave and continues to support its franchises in their current markets as well as rework their marketing efforts. If you truly wish to leave the league, your efforts in those endeavors will be missed.