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Predators or Prey?

10 reasons why the future of professional hockey in Nashville is on thin ice

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It's March 29, 2005, and Craig Leipold is angry. The famously approachable owner of Nashville's professional ice hockey franchise, the Predators, is on the radio, and he's defending his organization's financial viability against a pair of articles published in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper. Those articles—one titled "Several Clubs on Verge of Penury," the other "Predators, Panthers Could Feel the Pinch"—were published in a city considered to be the Mecca of hockey. But it's their potential impact 800 miles farther south that has Leipold doing damage control on a local sports talk show, 104.5 FM's afternoon "Sports Zone."

The Globe and Mail reporter's contentions are many: lowest revenue among the National Hockey League's 30 teams; forced to refinance $40 million of debt when Leipold was unable to satisfy a Bank of America request for additional security for its portion; using the deposits of suite holders, club seat holders and season-ticket holders as operating capital, potentially leaving those customers as unsecured creditors should the team go bankrupt. The list goes on. Leipold minimizes some, corrects others and flatly denies the rest. From the tone of his protestations, it's apparent that he's been personally insulted—as if someone has uttered a cross word about his wife in his presence. Factual or not, the slings and arrows clearly struck a tender nerve.

One would think he'd be used to it by now. For years, the Nashville Predators have been the subject of occasional news items that point to evidence of economic struggles. Those stories have ranged from the objective (documents in 2003 stating that the team was repeatedly late with required payments to the city) to the incredible (a Winnipeg Free Press report from January 2004 that not only said Leipold wanted to sell the Predators, but also that an anonymous NHL chief financial officer claimed the asking price was a measly $40 million, far less than the $80 million ownership paid for the franchise in 1997, or the $111 million Forbes magazine said the team was worth in 2004). Over the past eight months, the pessimism has increased. Even Leipold and his fellow team owners argue that the league's franchises are failing under its current economic system. Escalating player salaries simply consume too much of total revenue, they say.

Remember hockey? The sport with the ice and the sticks and the little rubber puck? No one would blame you if you didn't. That's because the need to restructure the flawed economic system has ignited a battle between the NHL and the Players Association (NHLPA). In an effort to force a deal, the league locked out the players last September, before the start of the hockey season. There is still no deal, and a cancelled 2004-2005 season lies in the dispute's choppy wake. The start of next season is in jeopardy, too.

Some claim small-market teams in nontraditional hockey cities—Nashville chief among them—won't be able to weather such a significant stoppage. Others counter that a new economic structure will put these same teams in stronger financial positions than ever, while also making them more competitive on the ice. Any short-term pain will be worthwhile if the league can secure changes that provide long-term benefits, the argument goes. That argument has been Craig Leipold's mantra for years now, and his rose-colored message has Nashvillians believing.

But should they be? Certainly the theory that the Predators will emerge from these darkest days of NHL history in a better overall position has merit. Ideally that theory will become fact, since few, if any, Middle Tennesseans would like to see the franchise fold or move away. Yet, unlike Canadian news outlets' daily reporting and analysis of the dispute's unfolding events, Nashville's flow of hockey news has slowed to a trickle. Do people really grasp the significance of this critical stage in Predators history? Playing devil's advocate and building a case against the optimistic scenario proposed by the Predators is not difficult. There are at least 10 reasonable points of concern that could ultimately bring an end to professional hockey in Nashville.

1. The National Hockey League has over-expanded.

When the National Hockey League officially welcomed the Nashville Predators in May 1998, the league was in full-fledged expansion mode. As the first new franchise in five years, the Predators opened the door for three other entrants—Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Columbus, Ohio—over the next three years. The NHL's master plan: build upon previously established outposts in such nontraditional hockey markets as Anaheim, Dallas, Raleigh and two Florida cities; present itself as a truly nationwide sport in the U.S.; and secure a lucrative national television contract.

"[The NHL] made a strategic decision to try to go from a regional to a national league," says Stanford professor of economics Roger Noll, "and thereby go from 20 to 25 percent of your revenues accounted for by broadcasting to 60 or 70 percent accounted for by broadcasting. That decision, whether it was good or bad, turned out to be unsuccessful [since no significant TV deal materialized]. So they're stuck with a league that is probably twice as big as it ought to be."

Also fueling expansion was the $80 million franchise fee that each new team paid to join the league. That revenue was distributed among existing owners. "There was a significant expansion going on that saw the league expand up to 30 teams, and in my opinion it was an economic incentive," explains Los Angeles-based player agent Allan Walsh. "The whole expansion push was a push from the owners to grab cash. Now, once the owners have grabbed the cash, they're coming back to the players several years later and saying, 'We owners have made a mistake. We expanded into markets that are not working economically, because the franchises are losing money.' "

The possibility of contraction—the elimination of one or more teams—has arisen as a potential solution in some circles, though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman firmly opposes the idea. Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios told a Detroit newspaper the league should "get rid of six or seven teams that don't belong where they are." He added, "Hockey's not a national sport in the U.S., and Gary Bettman doesn't have a feel for that." In another report, Dallas Stars forward Mike Modano specifically mentioned Nashville and Raleigh as the franchises he thought should be contracted.

Leipold, who's a member of the NHL's negotiating committee, declined to be interviewed for this story. Predators spokesman Gerry Helper cited the sensitive nature of the ongoing labor talks as the reason. Leipold told The Tennessean in February, though, "When I hear players from around the league, sometimes even from my own team, question whether or not we'll be in this league a year from now, I am flabbergasted. What do they think, that I'm going to turn tail and run? Of course I'm not."

The NHL hasn't downsized since 1978, when the Cleveland Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars. Paul Swangard, the managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, believes team relocation may be more likely than contraction, "because I still do believe that there are some markets like Kansas City [Mo.] and others that would be natural places for the league to be in a position to be more successful." That's supposing the profitable, big-market franchises still believe in the "greater good" of having healthy teams in multiple cities, he says. "It goes back to the basic business planning principles of, 'OK, what does this league's success look like and what's a viable model to make everyone who has a business in this enterprise make it a profitable business?' "

2. The Nashville Predators are plagued by a lack of revenue.

NHL owners contend that their losses are due to rising player salaries, which the league claims are now consuming nearly 80 percent of total revenue. Predators fan Mark Hollingsworth sees their point. "Having been an owner of a business myself in the past, I just feel like owners deserve to be able to make a profit," he says. "I think it's absolute insanity when the players are making—I think it's 77 percent—of the gross income of the league. I mean nobody runs a business like that."

So when the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the NHLPA expired last September, the owners approached the bargaining table determined to install a cap, or maximum dollar amount, on salaries. When the players refused to accept such a cap and declined to negotiate its terms, the owners locked them out. Since then, the NHLPA has proposed a 24 percent rollback in all player salaries and has conceded on the cap issue. Still, the two sides have been unable to agree on the specifics, like the dollar amount at which the cap should be set.

But Stanford's Roger Noll says salaries are not really the issue for the struggling teams in America's Sunbelt. It's the fact that they don't generate enough revenue. "Since [the league] predicated their expansion on the notion of large revenue from television that would basically be the mechanism for revenue sharing—it would be divided among all the teams in the league—they're left with much more unequal revenue across teams than any other league."

Bob McKenzie, hockey analyst for Canada's TSN sports network, acknowledges a lack of revenue in Nashville, but believes revenue and salaries have a symbiotic relationship. "I tend to agree that the Predators' primary problem would appear to be revenue as opposed to (player) costs," McKenzie writes in an email, "but I think [Predators general manager] David Poile would be the first one to tell you if the gap between the low payroll and high payroll teams is closed considerably in a new CBA, the Predators will be more competitive on the ice, which would result in a stronger revenue picture off the ice (i.e. better attendance, playoff monies, etc.)."

It's convincing logic, but it's based on a number of assumptions regarding the final terms of the new labor agreement and the return of the casual fan to the Gaylord Entertainment Center—neither of which are sure bets at this point.

3. The Nashville Predators aren't selling enough tickets.

The Predators' revenue problems can be linked to game attendance, which has decreased annually since the inaugural 1998-1999 season. In years one through three, the team made a profit, according to Leipold. Not surprisingly, the attendance figures for those years indicate an arena averaging above 90 percent of capacity for Predators' home games. In the three years since, average attendance has continually declined to a low of 77 percent of capacity.

More telling, though, is that the franchise has fulfilled a condition of an "out clause" in its License and Use Agreement with the Nashville Metropolitan Sports Authority. That agreement states that if the number of tickets sold per home game does not average at least 14,000 in each of two consecutive full seasons, the team has the right within 60 days of the completion of the second season to cancel the agreement. Average attendance figures for the seasons ending in 2003 and 2004 were 13,228 and 13,177, respectively—and those are announced attendance numbers, almost universally inflated above actual ticket sales.

"It's my understanding that the attendance for the previous years would satisfy the condition in that lease that would permit them to exercise the out clause," says Paul Ney, vice chair of the Metro Sports Authority board. "I think it's pretty clear that their average attendance has not met those numbers, so if the Predators elected to, they have that opportunity. Of course, the lease provides some other conditions and then the consequences of that election. Beyond that, there's been no indication, to my knowledge, that they've even hinted at contemplating exercising that clause."

Indeed, in February Leipold told The Tennessean in no uncertain terms, "We're not going anywhere, ever." Assuming that is Leipold's intention, the fact remains that the franchise is failing to meet a crucial threshold that it obviously felt was important to its success in Nashville. Since Leipold has also stated that he won't accept continued losses of large amounts of money, the scenario raises the question of how many years the organization can afford to miss the 14,000 target before the lack of gate revenue forces Leipold to cut his losses.

4. No one can predict what impact the lockout will have on the Nashville market.

In terms of on-ice success, the Nashville Predators ended the 2003-2004 season with a flourish: they made the playoffs for the first time in their six-year existence. Nashville coach Barry Trotz's team of up-and-comers battled the veteran Detroit Red Wings—one of the league's most storied and moneyed franchises—to Game 6 of a best-of-seven first-round series. The Predators were eliminated, but not before creating a buzz among Nashvillians that marked the highest point in the team's short history.

"Just coming into the building, it struck me how different this was than coming to regular season Preds games," says fan Jason Kirk, who writes a blog dedicated to the team at http://predatorsden.jasonkirk.net. "Part of what I've always tried to tell people about the Predators, writing on the Internet and everything, is that they play this scrappy game with so much energy. And [during the playoffs], it didn't look like scrappy energy from the second they hit the ice. It looked like they really belonged there with the best team in the conference."

In addition, the Milwaukee Admirals, the minor-league hockey franchise where future Predators are groomed for the big leagues, won its league championship. On the ice, the future of hockey in Nashville could not have looked any brighter.

Thirteen months later, the Predators haven't been back on the ice since their Game 6 loss to Detroit. Thanks to the league shutdown, the thundering momentum of one year ago has rolled quietly to a stop. "It's the kind of thing where if you don't keep people aware that it's there," Kirk says, "...they kind of forget about it and they'll go do other things." Kirk adds that these days, even he and his friends aren't talking about hockey. "That's the problem."

"Certainly the buzz is down," observes Hollingsworth, a vocal ringleader in the arena's rambunctious Section 303. "Now, I do believe that once things get resolved, knowing Craig Leipold and the marketing staff of the Preds, they will definitely crank everything back up. And I think it will start to be discussed more."

Leipold, who resides in Racine, Wis., with his wife and five sons, recently told his hometown paper, The Journal Times, that right now the Predators organization "would prefer that there were no stories" in Nashville papers about the lockout. Yet he is acutely conscious of the negative impact that can accompany being out-of-sight, out-of-mind for an extended period of time. "We are very concerned about apathy," Leipold told the paper. "There is no way around it. We have to work hard again to get our fans to care about what's going on, to get them passionate about this sport."

Others believe reviving professional hockey in Nashville will be nearly impossible. "And no matter what kind of game we get when it comes back, it's not going to be the same," hockey agent Walsh told the Los Angeles Times in January. "Florida, Atlanta, Nashville, Anaheim, Carolina—those markets are d-e-a-d dead. Put a fork in 'em, they're done."

When recently asked to elaborate on that quote, Walsh explained that it was not meant as a criticism of the Nashville organization, but as a systemic comment. "When you hear about the season ticket base in Nashville and Anaheim and Florida," he says, "it is my own personal opinion that if the NHL season was cancelled—and ultimately it was—that these franchises would have a very difficult time coming back and making money and being able to thrive under any system."

Likewise, colorful Hockey Night in Canada analyst Don Cherry expressed his pessimism in an interview on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's website: "I think four or five franchises will go down the drain. I don't think teams like Florida and Nashville can survive it."

As president of the Ann Arbor, Mich., company Leisure Intelligence Group, Dr. Richard Luker studies sports fans and their consumer relationships with teams and products. He suggests a current reading of the Nashville market can serve as a telling harbinger. "Sometimes what happens is [when] you take a product out of the market, you get a much better sense of the strength of that product," Luker says. "Because by in large, people won't say anything about something when its readily available. You get their true sentiments when you take it away. So if what's going on down there is you're not getting a lot of people saying, 'Hey! Where's my hockey?'—you have to take that as an important message."

5. The National Hockey League cannot command a lucrative U.S. television contract.

Not only has the NHL been unable to strike a national TV broadcasting deal like those of other major leagues, but woeful ratings for televised hockey are stripping the league of any leverage in current contract negotiations. In a deal signed in 2004 with NBC to broadcast seven regular season games and at least eight playoff games, the league gets no money up front and will simply split revenues with the network. It's similar to the arrangement NBC has with the Arena Football League. Meanwhile, the NHL's five-year, $600 million deal with ESPN/ABC expired in 2004, and it is ESPN's option whether to extend the relationship for one more season at $60 million—half the yearly rate of the previous contract. The network has reportedly received better ratings during the cancelled season with its fill-in programming. To date, ESPN has not picked up the option, leaving the NHL twisting in the wind.

"On the other extreme," read a recent New York Times article about the NHL's broadcasting fate, "the National Football League is always able to make networks play its tune, which is why it will be getting at least $3.7 billion annually in TV money starting in 2006."

This means the NHL has less revenue available for subsidizing its small-market franchises, forcing the teams instead to rely heavily on gate revenue—which, again, is not a strong point for the Predators. Contrast this again with the NFL's economic situation, which, according to University of Oregon's Swangard, allows for so much aid to its small-market teams that "before one ticket is sold in Green Bay, Wis., the Packers receive a check from the league office that covers every dollar of their player payroll."

6. National Hockey League teams are unable to sufficiently market themselves due to lack of revenue.

If there's one thing the Predators organization is known for, it's marketing. The franchise has been recognized throughout the league for the methods by which it advertises and executes its "entertainment product." Swangard recalls the effective strategy that got country music stars involved in the sport locally. "If [the organization] could make what was already hip look at hockey as hip, then hockey became hip," he says.

Given that Nashville is a new, nontraditional hockey market, though, and the team has been absent for over a year now, the Predators must determine how much, if any, of their marketing foundation remains. "A lot of the people in the front office are friends of mine," Hollingsworth says. "They've told me that they'll look at it as relaunching the team from square one like they did seven or eight years ago."

The problem, Swangard says, is that the economics of the league prevent its franchises from spending enough money on marketing themselves. He explains that the limited revenue forces teams to decide between paying players and spending money on marketing. "There's a constant battle there," he says, "because you're always trying to put a competitive product on the ice because you know that a winning product always does help. Make no bones about it.

"The other issue is that it's a venue-driven sport from a marketing standpoint," he continues. "You have to get someone inside that building to witness the sport firsthand to make them a fan," whereas other sports have been able to gain fans through television. Furthermore, he adds, the economics of the league make it difficult to price tickets. The cheapest tickets are for the seats farthest from the ice, an arrangement that doesn't necessarily help sell the sport. "I don't think you become a hockey fan sitting up in the last row of the venue in Nashville, vs. maybe being down in the lower bowl or near where the action is," Swangard says. "You can't price 'em that low because you need the revenue at the gate, and so it's sort of a Catch-22."

Kirk's experience at his first Predators game in December 2000 verifies that point. "We got tickets and I think we were about three or four rows back off the ice," he says. "The Preds ended up winning that one in overtime. It had the feeling like something out of a movie, really. After that game I was hooked."

7. The National Hockey League's profitable teams aren't likely to share significant revenue with struggling teams.

With talk of a salary cap has come talk of a salary "floor." The logic is that if big-spenders like New York and Toronto are going to be limited for the sake of improved on-ice competition, low-spenders like Nashville should have to meet a minimum payroll requirement as well, thereby closing the gap between the salary extremes. A recent NHLPA proposal was reportedly seeking a cap of $50 million and a floor of $30 million. The NHL rejected those numbers, saying they were too high. Leipold stated on his March "Sports Zone" appearance that he wants a floor of $22 million, and that his franchise would need to be subsidized by the league to reach that amount.

"I think the whole notion is to put teams in a position, either through the use of a cap or...revenue sharing principles, to kind of meet in the middle," Swangard says. Many analysts doubt, however, that the more prosperous NHL owners will agree to a system in which they give significant amounts of their money to struggling teams.

"I don't think it's realistic as a business proposition to expect those [healthy and profitable] teams to give up a large fraction of their revenue for nothing," says Noll. So far, NHL owners have reportedly agreed to share revenue generated from playoff games, but not from the more substantial regular season.

Marc Lavoie, a University of Ottawa professor of economics, points out that convincing NFL owners to share among themselves is relatively easy, thanks to the large broadcasting revenue. "It's much more difficult to persuade someone to have part of the team's gate revenue be redistributed to some other team," he says. "How are we going to do this in hockey, if we don't have any big national television contracts? I'm a bit pessimistic with regard to that."

8. There's no guarantee that the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement will offer sufficient benefits to the Nashville Predators.

So what if, in the course of negotiations, the majority of owners decide to accept a salary floor that is higher than Nashville would like, or revenue sharing that isn't as ample as the Predators might need? TV analyst McKenzie notes that Craig Leipold, as a member of the owners' negotiating committee, will be the first to know if the new CBA is not going to benefit the Predators. "It will be up to him to ensure that doesn't happen and that his franchise's interests are being looked out for," he says.

Leipold has seemingly already suffered two losses, though, at crucial points in negotiations. First, in February of this year, when the season was on the brink of cancellation, the NHL presented a final proposal that included a salary cap without "linkage." Linkage, a concept heavily favored by Leipold, would simply establish that the salary cap is always a certain percent of league revenue—say 54 percent. As revenues rose and fell each year, so would the cap limit. The NHL's eleventh-hour proposal, on the other hand, included an arbitrary cap of $42.5 million. Even if revenues sank sharply as a result of the lockout, the cap would not change and salaries could conceivably consume 60 or 70 percent of that revenue instead. The players' union ultimately rejected the proposal and Leipold expressed his relief. Had the offer been accepted by the NHLPA, he would have been saddled with a system that, judging from his statements, wasn't in his team's best interest.

Then, in early March, Leipold told the press that professional hockey would definitely be back on the ice in Nashville this October. The implication was that if there were still no deal with the NHLPA, the league would employ replacement players to play the games. Leipold was a big proponent of the strategy. It makes sense: anything that weakens the players' leverage in negotiations increases the likelihood that Leipold gets a CBA with a low salary cap and other favorable terms. Tuned-in Predators fans seemed to support the idea as well. "I know this is going to sound strange, but every fan that I've talked to is almost in favor of it," Hollingsworth said in late March. "They feel like, 'You know what? They've got to send a message to these millionaire crybabies.' I think most everybody wants them to break this union and break it hard."

Yet, as discussion of replacements circulated throughout the league, some owners quietly began to express their disapproval. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, currently part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes, publicly stated his franchise's position: "As an organization, we don't like the idea. Those 700 guys are in the NHL for a reason. To go get replacement players is not the right thing to do. But we're just one of 30 teams and if the league says that's what it's going to do, we can't not go along with it." Following an April 20 meeting of the NHL Board of Governors, at which owners and executives from all teams gathered to discuss options, commissioner Bettman emerged to say, "If we do not have a collective bargaining agreement, we will not open the [2005-2006] season on time." With that, the idea of using replacement players had apparently been shelved, despite the strong support of Leipold.

9. Owners, general managers and player agents will find ways to circumvent the new rules.

Assuming a salary cap is installed to control player salaries, it will only be a matter of time before rules are circumvented and loopholes are exploited. It happened in the past decade under the previous CBA. Take the rookie salary cap, a feature that was new in the 1995 agreement. Owners and agents simply skirted the maximum dollar amount for first-year players by supplementing a legal base salary with large performance and signing bonuses.

"In economics, we assume that teams or owners try to maximize profit," says Lavoie. "But that assumption is wrong. There are a lot of these owners that try to maximize winning, even if that means making [financial] losses. Once you have these kinds of owners in the league, then you're bound to get this salary inflation and there's almost no limit to it."

Leipold made a similar observation during his recent interview with The Journal Times. "There are just a few teams in the National Hockey League—Detroit, Toronto, Colorado, Dallas, St. Louis and New York—so willing to spend money on their players, and when they re-sign their players, they pay too much," he said.

It's unrealistic to think that a new CBA is going to prevent these teams from continuing the same practices, albeit using new methods. As long as there are owners willing to compete for the best players, new rules will serve only as a temporary obstacle to rising player costs. "I'm very dubious about the efficiency of this salary cap," Lavoie says.

10. Many Nashvillians are likely to take a wait-and-see approach before supporting the team financially or emotionally.

The Predators are going to have some fences to mend when the lockout ends. For instance, there's Jason Kirk, who isn't too pleased about the way the league has carried itself during the dispute. In fact, he wrote a letter to Craig Leipold canceling the pair of Predators season tickets he had purchased before the league-instituted lockout. "The display of rank amateurism that Mr. Bettman put on from Sept. 15 onward, resulting in the first-ever cancellation of a major sports league's season in North America, is truly an embarrassment," Kirk wrote. "This is very hard for me to say, but unfortunately I must say it: Mr. Bettman's folly is an embarrassment from which I'm unable to distance you and your organization."

Leipold wrote a personal reply to Kirk's lengthy letter, which Kirk says he was surprised and happy to receive. Still, he's not sure how soon he'll be back in the arena. He has particular concerns about some of the free agents he hopes remain Predators. And he wants to see coach Barry Trotz continue behind the bench. "It depends on what I see, in terms of the direction they're taking and also what they do to reach out to fans," he says.

Reaching out to consumers after a situation like this is crucial if the franchise hopes to retain them as fans, according to Leisure Intelligence Group's Luker. He likens it to Coca-Cola's decision to introduce New Coke in 1985. "That was a real mistake that Coke made," he says. "What Coke consumers were looking for was, 'What is Coke's response? Are they remorseful? Are they humble about it? Do they, in the way they go about doing it, show that they do not take their fans for granted?' I think that is the key. It has a lot to do with the attitude."

John Siegfried, a professor of economics at Vanderbilt and a Predators season-ticket holder, is biding his time before committing money again. "I asked for my money back and I'm not just going to let it sit there and wait and see," he says. "I'm going to let them decide what they do and then I'll decide what I want to do."

Luker believes that hockey fans will return to the game because the appetite for the sport still exists. "I think part of the challenge though is how strong that will be in the nontraditional markets like [Nashville]," he says. "Frankly, I think that was at issue before any of the labor action happened."

Hollingsworth, whose support of the franchise hasn't wavered a bit, says he's not alone. "I think there's a core of five, six or seven thousand die-hard fans that will be there no matter what," he says. "But it's getting those other 10,000 back into the building with some regularity that'll be the challenge."

At this point, no one can predict what lies ahead for the Nashville Predators or the league as a whole. "I've heard it said before that we are in uncharted waters, uncharted territory," player agent Walsh says. "I'd certainly agree with that." What is certain, however, is that the Predators franchise has a difficult road ahead. In the coming months, variables will become constants and the big picture will come into focus. It's clear what Nashville's NHL team needs to be a healthy, profitable and competitive organization. Unfortunately for Craig Leipold, he controls only some of those variables.

"The Predators can't continue to lose as much money as they have in the past and they will need some benefit from a new CBA to ensure the losses aren't as significant as they have been," hockey analyst McKenzie says. "As long as the Predators are not bleeding profusely, if it can be run on a break-even or small-profit basis with his franchise value protected or escalating, Leipold strikes me as a guy who is in it for the long haul. That leads me to believe the Preds will make it, but that isn't to say it will be easy or there won't be bumps in the road."

"We'll have to come up with great promotions and we're going to have to make it so our fans will fall in love with the game again," Leipold told The Journal Times. "Is it going to be difficult? Yes, it's going to be difficult. Are we going to be able to do it? I don't know. I have a lot of confidence in our marketing ability and the way we are in the community—people like us in Nashville and want us to succeed."

Leipold is correct on that count. Nashvillians do like the Predators. The question, though, is do Nashvillians like the Predators enough?

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