Nashville Predators fans, especially over the last few years, have had to deal with columnists from "traditional" NHL markets that would prefer to see the team relocated to more northerly climes. That's understood, and in some measure it's part of what defines the fan base here - that "us against the world" mentality that bands the fans and the team together.
What gets frustrating, however, is when the hometown rag takes a decidedly anti-Predators angle, which appears to be just about any time there's off-ice news to report. That then becomes fodder for a fresh round of criticism from all over North America, particularly in Canada where the vultures are always circling for news of financial trouble for NHL teams.
I've been a newspaper reader all my life, but Monday morning I'm calling to cancel my subscription to The Tennessean, and I strongly urge all Nashville Predators fans to do the same. It simply makes no sense to underwrite a "news" organization which continuously and deliberately publishes half-truths at the Preds' expense.
There have been a number of objectionable articles run by the paper over the years, but what I read this morning set a new standard for yellow journalism...
This latest episode started with an online report yesterday about the Metro Sports Authority's finance committee meeting to discuss the tax lien filed on David Freeman, principal owner of the club. Since the various owners have to file an annual statement assuring the city that they have sufficient net worth to back their guarantees to the city, it's natural for Metro to be concerned about how the lien might affect Freeman's guarantee.
The discussion also took a turn through some of the other financial stories around the team over the last couple years, as board member Rusty Lawrence connected dots with the "Boots" Del Biaggio bankruptcy and the failure of CIT Group to wallow in his own "sense of insecurity." Perhaps if he didn't get in the way of the team maximizing business opportunities within the arena, they'd be in a stronger financial position and Rusty wouldn't be left sucking his thumb, rocking in the corner.
That initial article then concluded with the scary note that the team can trigger an escape clause in the arena lease as early as summer 2010 if average paid attendance dips below 14,000 and the team suffers a cumulative net loss of $20 million.
What it lacked, however, is any balance; the fact that the team made a small profit in 2007-8, and a modest loss last season, making the $20 million figure an incredibly unlikely prospect any time soon (since paid attendance is running close to last year's, and the payroll hasn't changed significantly). Nor did it mention that CIT Group is coming out of bankruptcy with a restructuring plan in place, so the specter of them having to call in the team's loan has passed. The Del Biaggio shares were privileged in the sense that he wasn't responsible for funding any operating losses by the team, so they don't miss his presence on a daily basis, either.
Heck, the parties most injured by Del Biaggio were the ones who lent him money; the banks, Craig Leipold, etc. If anything, the rest of the Preds ownership group escaped that drama relatively unscathed.
That first article was bad enough, but this morning when I opened up the paper I was stunned to see that instead of fleshing the article out with some balance for the morning edition, they merely piled on the half-truths ever higher, blaring the headline "Are Preds on thin financial ice?" on the front page of Section B.
This latest regurgitation includes tidbits like "Financial news surrounding the Predators has not been positive in 2009." Really? You don't consider rising attendance and the achievement of the 14,000 mark required for full NHL revenue sharing "positive news"? Or the fact that if they did make the playoffs (which they only missed by 3 points), they surely would have made at least another small profit?
How about the reports from recent Sports Authority meetings, which cite positive Sommet Center revenue figures for March, April, and May (the latest numbers available)? The revised arena lease was specifically designed to encourage the Predators ownership (which runs the Sommet Center via Powers Management) to bring more non-hockey events to the arena, and that appears to be working.
Worse yet, this article cites the nonsensical Forbes report on NHL franchise valuation and financial performance, a report widely criticized by anybody familiar with the circumstances. It paints a terrifying scenario, however, so The Tennessean ran with it.
The paper declares that there is no positive financial news surrounding the team simply because they choose not to report it.
Nobody claims that the Sports Authority meeting or the Freeman lien aren't newsworthy events, although it boggles the mind to consider what Rusty and the gang thought they would accomplish by such public hand-wringing. What is utterly lacking from the paper, however, is any sense of perspective, or a report on actual progress made by the Predators over the last few years. The only news deemed fit to print is negative, apparently.
The Tennessean has proven all too ready to play the stooge when it comes to running down the local hockey team, whether it's at the behest of local deadbeats or foreign parties looking to swipe them out of town. I, for one, refuse to finance that sort of nonsense any longer.
For more on this, check out The View From 111, where Mark fleshes out some of the financial issues.
Also, check out previous examples of The Tennessean's ongoing crusade to denigrate the Predators:
Smearing the owners of the team while ignoring the fact that during the franchise sale of 2007 they were manipulated by Jim Balsillie's minions into stirring up trouble between the city and the team.
Proclaiming news of a supposed scandal involving ticket taxes before checking in with all the parties involved; it turned out to be nothing more than a clerical error of dropping some language from the lease during negotiations, and everyone agreed that the Preds were paying the appropriate sums all along.
Skewing a minor story about the owners answering a capital call to cover the operating loss from last season by proclaiming that it "underscores the fragility of professional hockey operating in smaller and Southern markets." Any positive news about ticket sales was buried at the very end of the piece.