Nashville Predators Drop to #38 in ESPN's Ultimate Team Ranking

Frederick Breedon

While David Poile and Barry Trotz are focused on returning the Nashville Predators to the playoffs, by bringing in gritty free agents and promoting a return to "Predator Hockey", the organization as a whole will need to engineer a bit of a rebound as well, as reflected in the latest ESPN Ultimate Franchise Rankings. These rankings attempt to compare the ability of teams in the four major North American pro sports to provide the best experience for their fans. It takes into account categories such as their competitive standing, arena amenities and atmosphere, stability of ownership, and quality of fan relations. Nashville's other major league team, the Tennessee Titans, placed 103rd, a drop from #72 a year ago.

After placing 18th and 14th (out of 122) in recent years, the Preds took a tumble down to 38th this time around, and it's not entirely due to the fact that they finished out of the playoffs last season. Here's a look at the details from the last three years:

Year Overall Rank Bang for the Buck Fan Relations Ownership Affordability Stadium Experience Players Coaching Title Track
2013 38 92 11 34 12 13 47 29 73
2012 14 22 27 35 7 25 30 17 61
2011 18 33 6 41 7 23 16 14 70

The major knock cited by ESPN is that despite being a relatively affordable, fan-friendly team, their championship prospects have taken a dive:

With prices below the league average, a likable roster, one of the best goaltenders in Pekka Rinne and a guy like defenseman Seth Jones coming out of the draft, the only thing holding the Preds back from ranking higher this year is ... well, winning. After three straight seasons of playoff participation and a title almost within reach, Nashville managed just 16 wins in the 2013 shortened season and saw their Bang for the Buck ranking fall 70 spots this season.

The Price of Hockey Is Going Up

Restoring that "bang for the buck" factor will be a major challenge for the Predators, because one result of the tremendous success they've had on the business side of the game is that ticket prices are rising across the board for fans. You may recall that back in June I wrote about how the Predators gave away about three times as many free tickets as they have in recent seasons, and that the record "sellout streak" included nights when the Preds handed out freebies for more than 20% of the seats (4,372 comps on February 12, and 3,908 on February 14). That seemed to paint a grim picture, but it turns out that this was an incomplete one.

Recently, I gathered the full season's worth of ticket sales data from Nashville's Metro Sports Authority, and while those comps were indeed sky-high compared to the last few years, the bigger news is that the Predators are making significant steps forward in pricing, with the average price of a sold ticket leaping 20% from 2011-12 to last season. In the chart below, the average number of paid vs. comped tickets per game are indexed on the left axis, while the average gross price per paid ticket (before taxes & user fees are taken out) uses the right axis:

In a nutshell, even though the number of paying customers coming through the turnstiles was down a bit, the increased pricing meant that the nightly gross ticket sales were up more than 12% last season. It will be interesting to review how these numbers play out with a "normal" season coming up, because if the Predators can deliver their typical sales effort and keep the comps down to a reasonable level, pricing gains like this can represent a milestone achievement for the franchise, lifting it to a higher level of long-term stability as a business. It's one thing to draw people in with cheap tickets and publicity stunts, but if you can raise prices while continuing to fill the building, that's a sign that the market is truly buying into the franchise's direction.

Will the Predators reward that increased fan commitment by putting together a winning lineup this season, and if not, will they be able to maintain these pricing gains?

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