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OTF Chat: The Nashville Predators’ Mayoral Endorsement

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The Predators endorsed David Briley, but why?

2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

If you missed it, Predators CEO and President Sean Henry officially endorsed David Briley in the upcoming Davidson County election on May 24th. Here was the tweet and video that went out from the “Briley for Mayor” twitter account on Wednesday.

Here’s a transcription:

“Hi, I’m Sean Henry, this is my good buddy Gnash. We want to remind all of Smashville that election day is May 24th for the mayoral race. Early polls are open through this Saturday May 19th. I want to encourage everyone to get out and vote. Also want to let everyone in Smashville know that we’re supporting Mayor David Briley and we hope you join us in that as well. But regardless of who you vote for, get out and vote. Make your voice heard. Go Preds!”

[In the interest of transcribing everything that is “said” in the video, Gnash gives an approving nod when Henry says “we’re supporting Mayor David Briley” which seems relevant.]

This endorsement, and the fact that it seems to speak on behalf of the entire Predators organization, is a surprising move for the Nashville Predators given the recent political climate in Nashville.

A few weeks after publicly supporting the Nashville transit plan (the transit plan undoubtedly affected the downtown traffic situation and therefore the Predators atmosphere... I think we can give them the benefit of the doubt on this, regardless of your position on the plan), the team endorsed a mayoral candidate, usually a terrible idea for any local professional sports team, let alone one as consistently level-headed as the Nashville Predators.

To help discuss the problems with this endorsement, Dan Bradley and I decided to have a little chat. Before we move forward, it’s important to point out the obvious: neither Dan or I have any political motivations here. This is not about David Briley himself or any of the other candidates in the race. This is a merely an analysis of the decision by the Preds to endorse a candidate.

Alex: Ok, Dan. I need some perspective here. Is this mayoral endorsement as horrible an idea as I think it is? What do the Preds have to gain here?

Dan: In the grand scheme of things? Nothing they wouldn’t reasonably attain without Briley’s help (potentially). This does tip their hand in two areas: Sean Henry is running the franchise, and the franchise wants something. We saw them decide to endorse the transit initiative, and now we’re seeing them back a mayoral candidate. Not a great look.

Alex: Why do you think, after mostly playing neutral party to local politics, the Predators and Sean Henry are stepping onto this stage? Even if you like your local sports teams to be politically involved, this hardly seems like the time to choose sides.

Dan: They’re interested in arena upgrades. That’s not a new revelation. We were seeing renderings of new renovations back in 2016. Maybe Briley is more likely to push through a more beneficial funding package to the team for the upgrades. It’s a bold gamble coming from a team that took subsidies for years from the Metro Government.

Let’s be honest: the upgrades are a good idea. It makes sense to upgrade the arena every 15-20 years as opposed to letting it decay and building a new one after 25-30 years. A wise city council can see that. But now that the Predators are showing to have an agenda, that’s a slippery slope to pick a fight on.

Alex: Does this indicate something else then? Maybe a drop in their confidence to be able to get things done regardless of who is mayor? It certainly feels like a move that says “we need allies to get what we want” whereas the Predators usual mindset is “we have an amazing product and you should want us here.”

Dan: That’s a great question. You would think that after three straight seasons with a playoff run (not including the first round exit in 2015), the franchise would feel stronger than before. Instead, this appears to me as the team tipping their hand. Perhaps it’s the backlash over soccer stadium funding that has the ownership group worried about the arena renovations, and a Briley handshake may help ease those along with more public funding.

Sean Henry meeting fans before a Western Conference Final game last year
Nashville Predators

Alex: I also find this endorsement’s execution a bit troubling. Normally when the team rolls out a campaign, they go pretty big. We all know about the “gold helmets” and “Smashville” to say nothing of the production emphasis they put on game ops... so why do something like this on such a small scale? A 25 second video with Gnash and Henry. Are they trying to hide this? Is it the first step in a longer play? Will we soon get an email announcing a “David Briley & Friends: A Gathering At Bridgestone” where season ticket holders can meet the mayoral candidate and shake hands? I just feel like this is so not the way the Preds do things.

Dan: I don’t know about hiding it. I don’t think the team itself will make a post endorsing the candidate, so there’s the grey area. It can be spun much easier with the media coming from Briley’s campaign as opposed to the team directly.

Alex: To your point, there is nothing on the Predators website, nor on any of their various associated Twitter accounts (@PredsNHL, @PredsPR, not even @Gnash00). There’s also nothing on the daily media email that is sent out from the Predators communications team. It’s as if it didn’t happen, though it most definitely did.

Dan: That’s by design. The team is followed by people across the region and state. Briley is a local figure. Imagine the ratio of good responses to bad coming from the team account. I don’t feel sorry for the team being accused of endorsing a candidate. If that was an issue, then why is the team mascot and team president standing in front of a wall-sized portrait of a 2012 playoff game endorsing Briley? What’s the public to think other than “the hockey team would stand to benefit from Briley”?

Celebrities Attend The 2016 NHL All-Star Game
Former Mayors of Nashville at the 2016 All-Star Game
Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images

Alex: Let’s say I am a resident of either Williamson, Wilson, or Sumner county (like, oh I’d say 70-75% of season ticket holders?) and I see this endorsement. How do I react? Do I care at all? Do I feel like I’ve been left out of the conversation? Do I feel like the Preds have my best interest?

Dan: Briley’s agenda may be much in line with Megan Barry’s agenda, which could rub people the wrong way. The Predators were in favor of a transit plan that benefited downtown visitors and events, and that mads sense. For the franchise to tie themselves to a politician under the team’s banner is risky, especially given how the last mayor was dispatched. If it was just Sean Henry in his backyard or in his dining room during the video, I would be fine with it. He’s an adult and can endorse who he likes. I’m a bit disappointed in his judgement involving the team. There’s not another hockey team around for hundreds of miles. It’s no secret that the politics of the surrounding counties don’t line up with Nashville-Davidson County. So when Briley’s agenda doesn’t line up with folks back home in Kingston Springs, you might hear about it on the Preds Facebook. Oh boy!

This is a minor blip and will be viewed as a personal mistake or an instance of bad judgement that will be forgotten before too long, unless this becomes a pattern. The franchise should be flattered that a political campaign approached their team president for an endorsement. That doesn’t mean he should have taken the bait and endorsed the campaign on behalf of the team. He’s well within his power to do so, but it’s not a practice we should want to see more of.

Alex: So how does this play out? Obviously, if Briley wins the race, then the Preds have the mayor they endorsed. But haven’t they lost something with some of their fanbase in the process? This is the part that doesn’t make sense. There will always be folks who resent them for backing the guy that won and then the cynical crowd will be highly skeptical of any future team decisions (or city decisions that affect the team, like a new arena) and question the team’s (or the mayor’s) credibility. The win-win in their mind seems like a lose-lose for everyone else.

Dan: I don’t think they thought this through completely. They’ll be fine if David Briley loses, but we’ll still wonder why this message came out. It will be spun and we’ll get an answer that’s completely unrelated to hockey, but I’d rather give Henry and the Predators enough credit to assume that there’s a business motive behind their endorsement. I don’t want to think that Henry, who is a smart and forward-thinking person, would use his clout as well as the team’s clout without a purpose that would benefit the team.