At the Rink: Nashville Predators Harness the Passion of ‘Smashville’ at Bridgestone Arena
The team is also producing games of the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament
The National Hockey League was the last of the four major U.S. sports leagues to host a non-bubble regular season. As fans gradually make their return to the seats, how is that affecting in-venue productions and digital content? Similar to At the Ballpark, On the Gridiron, and On the Hardwood, At the Rink looks at the operations of NHL organizations to see how they are coping with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and adapting to a sense of normalcy.
Nashville may be known for its country music and its vibrant bar scene, but the city’s tenacious love for sports can go toe-to-toe with larger traditional markets like New York and Los Angeles. Whether it’s the “Tennessee Tough” campaign of the NFL’s Titans or the churning of constant content from the MLS’s Nashville City SC, fans in the metropolitan area are unabatedly loyal to their local teams. In the case of the NHL’s Predators, the in-venue production team is continuing to run a full show as fans slowly make their way back to Bridgestone Arena.
“We were really lucky to bring all of our production staff back in the building,” says Elizabeth Bower, event producer, Nashville Predators. “Being part of a company that values game production is really beneficial to what we put out there.”
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Welcome to Smashville: Productions Go Full Bore With In-Venue Elements
If you’ve never been to a Nashville Predators game in person, you should be prepared to expect the unexpected. Rather than tossing the customary hat, diehard supporters are known for tossing a catfish on the ice — even during games played during the pandemic. Back in 2018, Titans offensive lineman Taylor Lewan took it a step further by using a catfish as a beer luge before puck drop. The raucous crowds seen during regular season and playoffs games are gone for the moment, but in the meantime, Bower and her team are maintaining that same energy through video board content and overall atmosphere.
“Other than league protocols, we’ve been running a full show that hasn’t been altered that much since the season started in January,” says Bower. “We didn’t start out the season with fans, but after opening up to a limited number of people, we’ve been trying to find unique ways of involving our crowd.”
Similar to the 24/7 nature of the city, the production team only knows one way to operate: at full speed at all times. Preds games usually hold a maximum crowd of 18,200 fans, but despite the low or high number of patrons that walk through the front door of Bridgestone Arena, they always want to impress individuals that always attend and those that are coming for their first-ever game. In a normal year, they would have a bit more leeway to experiment with videoboard elements and content, but they’re currently running with a more reserved run of show.
“The fans are what get you up every day and motivate you because you know you’re going to make someone really happy,” she adds. “In game production, it’s normally ‘ask for forgiveness, not permission,’ but this is not the year to do that at all. It’s been difficult to manage things in a completely different way but having an amazing group to work with makes everything a little bit easier.”
Hosting Some Hoops: SEC Comes to Town for 2021 Men’s Basketball Tournament
When the nationwide pandemic hit, the staff were on hiatus from their hockey duties to focus on the 2020 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament. They’re now picking up where they left off with this year’s iteration of the tournament for the first time since Arkansas defeated Vanderbilt on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. From a production standpoint, the shows are very similar to what they’re used to and working with their reliable counterparts in the SEC makes for a seamless effort.
“There’s so much freedom to do things that you just don’t typically do,” says Bower. “The SEC does a really great job with creating and script out a lot of the content for us. It’s nice to let our group roll with it and guide everyone through it.”
Instead of looking at this time as a negative, Bower and the crew are looking at this as an opportunity to host a marquee sporting event, connect with their collegiate roots, and have a little fun while they can. As a graduate of Oklahoma State University, she works amongst a team that has strong ties to the conference.
“Everyone in the control room hides their preference on which team they’re rooting for,” she continues. “We all have to be a little bit quieter and reserved about it, but it’s always funny to see one of my team members get excited during a game.”
The Ones Who Get It Done: Notable Names of Predators’ Production Team
After the past 365 days that have been engulfed by the pandemic, it’s given a lot of people a good reason to press pause and reflect. Professional leagues and the creative staffers that work have been put through the gauntlet, but Bower and her colleagues, including Features Producer Matt Rowley and Graphics Coordinator Zach Gerhart are anticipating the day where fans can enjoy each other’s company in the honkey-tonks on Broadway and a sold-out Bridgestone Arena.
“When you look back to this time last year, everything was shut down and then you’re gone for 10 months,” she concludes. “I’m very blessed to be here and to be doing what I’m doing.”
After a long, six-game road trip, the Predators come home to Bridgestone Arena to face the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, March 23 at 8 p.m. ET.