Why the Nashville Predators Branding Works
by Eric Jackson
According to ESPN, The Nashville Predators is the #1 Franchise in sports. That’s lofty praise for a franchise that was on the brink collapse only a decade ago. Unable to make the franchise work in Nashville, owner Craig Leipold nearly sold the franchise to Jim Balsillie who had plans to move the franchise (despite publicly saying otherwise) to Hamilton, Ontario.
A decade later, the city of Nashville and the Nashville Predators are nationally recognized giants. And no discussion of either the city or the NHL franchise would be complete without addressing the branding. Here’s what makes the Nashville Predators brand a winner:
Repositioned for Success
When the franchise was struggling, they sought help from a strong marketing partner who in turn, helped them understand they were not correctly positioning their brand. The agency convinced the Predators to re-position themselves from a sports offering to an entertainment offering. As they put it, “It’s not something to do, it’s a place you can go for pure entertainment overload, and that place is called ‘Smashville’.”
Bold, Gold Consistency
Even after successfully re-positioning the team, there was more work to do. Nashville’s sweaters (that’s a hockey jersey to you unfamiliar) were terribly bad until a redesign in 2011 started addressing the problem. Predators merchandise was also all over the board, utilizing gray, blue, and gold…without one color standing out as distinctly “Predators.” In 2015, the team asked their agency to help them navigate their visual branding challenges. The Predators chose to go for the Gold, and by 2015, all merchandising followed suit. Today, a quick trip to the Nashville Predators Team Store or a game in Bridgestone Arena demonstrates the success: GOLD is EVERYWHERE.
You can do a lot with your brand, so long as you do it consistently…and they’ve made gold THE Predators primary color. They’ve even managed to wear gold helmets for home games which aren’t necessarily what the NHL wanted…but is now standard. It started as a “Saturday only” thing for home games and became a permanent change in 2017.
Stand With Us
You’ll see the “Stand With Us” banners, flags, and yard signs all over Nashville, especially during the playoffs. They’re a constant reminder that the Predators are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and representing the city of Nashville. Last season, NBC Sports couldn’t stop talking about the fanatical support displayed by the people of Nashville. The love is real, y’all.
A Heart for Nonprofits
Corporate citizenship is a growing part of any brand, and the Predators make a massive impact on the Nashville nonprofit ecosystem. In the past year, the Nashville Predators Foundation handed out 149 grants totaling $607,639.32.
And the Predators influence goes beyond money. Several players, including PK Subban, Pekka Rinne, Roman Josi, and Mike Fisher, regularly visit Vanderbilt Children’s hospital to bring joy to children fighting difficult diseases.
I grew up in Nashville. Were it not for the “Miracle on Ice,” I wouldn’t have known what hockey was. After watching the US team spectacularly beat the Soviets in 1980, I went back to baseball and football as if it was all just a dream.
Nashville secured an expansion franchise and with it, a huge hill to climb. The city was filled with people just like me who knew virtually nothing about hockey. It was tough going for over a decade. So what to do? What does resonate with the people of Nashville?
Anyone with a beating heart likes to be entertained, especially in the home of country music. Nashvillians know good entertainment when they see it…and the Nashville Predators learned how to put on a carnival-like show…and a hockey game would be the bonus. SMASHVILLE.
Smashville, in the marketing of the Nashville Predators, describes the sensory-overload game experience in one made-up word. Anyone – even someone who knows nothing about hockey – can have a great time at a Nashville Predators game. There is something for everyone…and the fans keep coming back. And now we are hopelessly addicted to hockey!
Today you’ll see “SMASH” hats by the thousands at every Predators home game…and even some away games…but only sold at Bridgestone Arena. SMASH is also not to be confused with Gnash.
Unique Traditions. A Catfish?
In the early days of the NHL, your team had to win eight games to win the Stanley Cup. Detroit fans started the tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice during playoff games. It was a constant reminder of the need to win those eight playoff games.
The Nashville Predators have their own version of the octopus, the catfish, started during their first trip to the playoffs in 2003. A Predators fan will smuggle a catfish into Bridgestone Arena and hurl it onto the ice just before puck drop.
Predators fans go nuts when a massive catfish hits the ice, forcing one of the Preds crew to skate off with the smelly carcass. My nephews, seven-year-old hockey players in Idaho, love it. The players love it. The Pittsburgh Penguins franchise was not as amused. And in fact, a Preds fan was arrested and charged with using the catfish as “an instrument of crime.”
Today, a fish-tank holds several “Instruments of Crime,” including our #1 catfish, Gill. Who can’t get behind that?!
Winning is never bad for your brand…and the Nashville Predators have been doing a lot of it lately. The Predators were the last of 16 teams to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in 2017. Despite losing key players Kevin Fiala and Ryan Johansen to injury, they were a force to be reckoned with, getting better with each game. The Predators won the Western Conference Championship series, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals.
That long-awaited first banner – Western Conference Champions – was hung from the rafters at the beginning of this season. And in early April, the Predators earned three more banners all in the span of five minutes – Central Division Champions, Western Conference Regular Season Champions, and the President’s Trophy which goes to the team with the best record in the NHL. If everything works according to plan, team Captain Roman Josi will hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, adding one more banner to the rafters.
The Playoff Beard
Though not technically part of the Predators brand, the Playoff Beard is an integral part of the game. If you’re a hockey player on a team in a playoff run, you don’t shave. You don’t even think about trimming your beard. It’s bad luck. The hockey beard tradition also extends to the fans. Unfortunately, my Playoff Beard makes me look more like Willie Nelson than Roman Josi.
These are just some of the things the Predators have been doing to elevate their brand. It’s more than just the colors and logos. It’s an emotional connection that goes beyond what happens at Bridgestone Arena.
What makes your brand special? How do your “fans” connect with your brand and culture? I’d recommend you look at the Nashville Predators as a leading example! GO PREDS!!