Bringing Professional Hockey to Nashville
When the National Hockey League began to consider expansion of the league into a new market in 1996, many skeptics believed that professional ice hockey could never work in a Southern city known primarily for country music. But Craig Leipold, a visionary businessman from Wisconsin, saw the potential in Nashville and partnered with Nashville city leaders to seek a franchise.
The Predators hired Atkinson to help manage the campaign to win the franchise and to introduce hockey to Nashvillians.
Atkinson built a strategy to convince the NHL—and Nashvillians—that Nashville was the perfect place for a professional hockey team. The Atkinson team deployed the following tactics:
Developed a public educational campaign about hockey. Atkinson helped the Predators team deliver speeches to civic and business groups, conduct media briefings, create informational materials, and plan “on ice” demonstrations.
Built relationships with business and government groups. For example – area Chambers of Commerce, Metro Mayor’s Office, Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Participated in key community events. For example – fund raising events for local charities, economic development initiatives,
Established a close working relationship with sports and business media. Atkinson planned and conducted frequent media briefings and news conferences around major announcements.
Created a massive community welcome event for the site visit by the NHL Board of Governors prior to the vote.
The campaign realized its ultimate success when Nashville was awarded the expansion franchise in June 1997. Today the Predators continue to play in Bridgestone Arena.
NHL Board of Governors visit
More than 3,000 Nashvillians turned out for the Nashville Arena plaza rally, generated without any paid media advertising.
The event generated more than 100 local and national media articles and Web mentions pre- and post-event.
Fourteen local radio stations and three local TV crews covered the event live.
The Predators established excellent two-way relations with media, local government and Nashville community leaders.
Community pride and buy-in
More than 15 games sold out in the first year.
The team, its management and players are highly regarded and visible in the Nashville community.