Turning a corner

For my money, we’ve turned a proverbial corner. And much, much sooner than I expected us to do so.

As, at best, a curious observer of hockey in the first few years of the Predators’ existence in Nashville, I had something of an outsider’s eye for what was going on with the team in terms of popularity. I would go to the occasional game when a friend invited me or there was some group event (e.g., Cub Scouts and their parents), but, for the most part, I watched from afar and talked to people who were fans, especially those who had just started watching. 

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What I noticed was that, while the team/sport didn’t have a huge flux of city wide support in the beginning, it had a combination of die hard hockey fans coupled with a group who were new to the sport but who seemed to find some magic in it—the type of magic I have found in soccer–from the get go. While I couldn’t quite understand the draw, I remember telling a friend that any sport that was grabbing a good number of new fans in the beginning had a decent base for that day when the team took off (likely because they started winning). 

Indeed, while the team always seemed to have fans early on, the first few years that base seemed to be soft. 

Until it wasn’t. 

During those first playoff runs, you could see that the Predators were here to stay. We no longer would have to hear metaphors comparing hockey to football, and we no longer had to hear people say “I like the Predators, but I’m really a Titans fan.” Hockey and the Preds both had a home here and both had a family of fans who first (and sometimes only) point of identification was with them.

When MLS first announced that Nashville would be awarded a franchise, I was absolutely freaking thrilled, of course. But I also wondered (bordering on worry) what our growth trajectory would look like. Unlike cities that had huge fan bases as USL sides, we had a much smaller, although thoroughly dedicated fan base. Would we be like an Atlanta, and explode out of the gates? Would our growth be slower but sustainable? Would a 30,000 seat stadium actually make sense?

As the USL years rolled by, and our first MLS season was tainted by the pandemic blues, I continued to feel somewhat skittish about how this was all going to unroll.

All of a sudden, though, I’m seeing nothing but roses, as if we have turned some magical corner on what NSC will mean to the city. It’s not that we’re suddenly selling out Titans’ stadium (although we are at worst holding steady and at best, building in a zig zag fashion). It’s more that the last several weeks have illustrated not simply that we have a sizeable hardcore base of fans but also that we are showing every indication that the team is ripe for an explosion of popularity.

I’m not wrong, am I? Aren’t we all feeling this shift?

First, the team has ownership and a front office that seems dedicated to making the right moves for the right players to build a team ready for a playoff run, even without a “super splashy” signing. Mike Jacobs promised from the beginning that this team would be signing the right players for the prices in smart ways. And damned if it doesn’t seem to be paying off. 

Yes, no team is perfect, and yeah, we’ve had some frustrating games and times when we have collectively questioned some of the decisions, but more often than not, we’re grabbing points, and, in every game, we look not only like we belong there but that we are ready to grab victory.  While we now face a long road stretch to test the teams’ resolve, with the latest addition of Loba, we are entering that stretch as an even stronger team and a team that everyone else must take very seriously. 

The excited of fielding a strong team; the air of victory; these are fan aphrodisiacs. 

But there’s more. The general (and international) buzz around Soccer Moses that I wrote about a few weeks ago, the excitement around Mukhtar’s rapid-fire hat trick… Oh my freaking heart.  This is the stuff fans dream about, and it’s happening all at once.

And, finally, there’s just so much going on with those of you ensconced in the Backline. And, while I have huge respect for what you do at the game (I’m promising myself that I’m going to return to the Backline for a full game this season), I’m more impressed with everything that takes place outside of the game, both IRL and online. From the Roadies sponsored 3 v 3 tournament a few weeks ago to the sometimes-excellent troll work of some of our twitter warriors, to the repeated excitement over buying new season tickets, to the creation of a Chaos Corner, to the great humor and banter that went on about, of all things, lucky footwear. 

There’s a community here; there’s winning here; the recipe is just getting better and better, and those of you who are pushing the agenda are rocking it.

I cannot wait to see what this looks like in our own home. Bring on the future.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Broadway Sports Media as a whole.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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