Nashville Predators make 30-year commitment to Bridgestone Arena

NHL ice hockey team the Nashville Predators has sealed what it claims will be the best public-private facility partnership in the United States through a new lease deal that will keep the franchise at Bridgestone Arena through to 2049.

Following reports last week that the Predators had agreed terms on a 30-year contract, Powers Management – the company which operates Bridgestone Arena – and Metro Nashville and the Sports Authority yesterday (Thursday) announced a proposed new lease, pending approval by the Metro Nashville Sports Authority, that relieves taxpayers of financial responsibility for the facility.

At the same time, the Sports Authority will execute a tenancy agreement with the team that ensures the Predators will remain at Bridgestone Arena for the next 30 years. The Sports Authority board is expected to sign off on the agreement next month.

The key element of the new lease is that it relieves the Metro Davidson County General Fund from all obligations of supporting Bridgestone Arena and the Predators. Under the new agreement, existing in-arena revenue streams will be utilised to maintain, improve and expand the building while eliminating Metro’s guarantees. By changing the funding model, Metro also retains funds for priorities such as the Sports Authority, municipal bonds on other projects and investing in future events.

From the initial agreements in 1997 to the 2019 agreement, the structure has evolved from Metro bearing responsibility for operating costs and capital improvements for the arena with Powers Management having little or no incentive to book additional events, to Powers assuming more risk and more upside for making Bridgestone Arena one of the busiest venues in North America, while eliminating Metro budget subsidies for operating costs and capital improvements.

This evolution has created two Ford Ice Centers and resulted in $80m (£62.7m/€71.6m) in private renovations to the Arena in the past eight years. Predators CEO and president, Sean Henry, said: “The rise of our franchise and arena growth since the last agreement in 2012 are testaments to a model of public-private partnership and a community-wide embrace and passion for the Predators.

“Bridgestone Arena is the envy of our industry and could not be what it is today without so many partners coming together to maximise its value, economic impact and benefit to the community. This is exactly where we want to be – in the centre of downtown and playing an integral role in our community’s growth and development for the next 30 years.

“This partnership will allow us to book the best of the best events that appeal to all corners of our community, allow the Nashville Predators to thrive in Smashville and allow Powers Management to maintain the building in a world-class way while freeing Metro’s operating and capital budgets of any and all financial obligations.”

Bridgestone Arena, which has a capacity of 17,159 for ice hockey games, opened in December 1996 and the Predators moved in two years later. Under the new deal, The Tennessean newspaper said the Predators will no longer receive an operating subsidy, which cost the city around $3.5m annually and covered the losses they incurred by running the arena.

However, the team will still gain incentives in the form of sales tax collections and ticket tax revenue, which they will use to maintain and improve the arena. Henry added to the newspaper that rather than seek a new arena after 20 years, which many US pro sports teams have done of late, the Predators intend to call Bridgestone Arena home for decades to come.

“When you look at unique venues and real strong partnerships, they can really change a city and they can change areas,” Henry said. “We’re pretty proud of that, more so than wins and losses, rankings, awards. We like those and brag about those all the time. But what we’re really excited about is that I’m hard-pressed to find another venue in North America where you can point to it and say, ‘Look what’s happening around that building.’”

Image: Nashville Predators