By David Ammenheuser of The Tennessean
As the city skyline changed over the past two decades, so did our sports landscape.
Nashvillians have many choices of sporting events to attend today that did not exist just 20 years ago. Professional hockey, professional football, college bowl games and conference basketball tournaments are now staples of a hefty diet of sports choices in Middle Tennessee.
Music City? Nah. It's Sports City.
Few other regions across the country can boast three professional sports teams (the NFL's Titans, the NHL's Predators, the Triple-A baseball Sounds), six Division I colleges (Vanderbilt, Tennessee State, Lipscomb, Belmont, Middle Tennessee State and Austin Peay), a major college bowl game (Music City Bowl), two annual college basketball tournaments (the SEC and OVC call Nashville home).
And we haven't mentioned the annual Rock 'N Roll Music Marathon.
And professional soccer is on the horizon. The expansion Nashville FC is expected to play its first season in 2018.
Finding a ticket to events isn't too difficult. Watching the Predators at Bridgestone Arena is the toughest ticket. Especially on weekends. The Predators have sold out 65 of 82 regular-season home games over the past two seasons. With their recent acquisition of superstar defenseman P.K. Subban, the Predators will be a trendy pick to win the Central Division and advance to the Stanley Cup. And while the team colors of gold and blue blanket the arena at home games, it's not unusual to see opposing team jerseys in the crowd.
Nashville, after all, is home to transplanted fans across the country.
The same occurs at Nissan Stadium each fall when the Titans play their home games. With the team in a rebuilding mode, it's very common for local fans to cheer for opposing teams that they watched in their former cities. Of course, if the Titans win more games, that mantra will change quickly.
And there's no better place to watch a sporting event in our city than First Tennessee Park, the home of the Sounds, the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland A's. The park opened in 2015 and has been a favorite meeting spot for baseball fans as well as millennials just looking to get together and chat at the popular right-field Band Box bar.
If you prefer college sports, Vanderbilt plays in the Southeastern Conference — arguably the best football conference in the nation. And although the Commodores have never won the SEC title, they play host to some of the nation's best teams. And we all know that the city is filled with Tennessee fans as well as a mixture of loyal fans from many other universities.
Sports in our city has become almost as much as a tourist activity as the CMA Festival. The SEC basketball tournament, held at Bridgestone Arena in March, brings tens of thousands (many of them Kentucky fans) to lower Broadway. When the marathon hits the city in late April, the tens of thousands of participants run through all of our neighborhoods while listening to live bands perform music at every mile.
Music City? Nah.We should rename our treasured destination Music and Sports City.
Reach Dave Ammenheuser at 615-259-8352 and on Twitter @NashSportsEd.
Gnash. T-rac. Booster.
Do you know them? If you're a sports enthusiast living in Nashville, you should.
They are the mascots of Nashville's three professional sports franchises. You can spot them at Bridgestone Arena (Gnash is the mascot of the Predators, our NHL franchise), Nissan Stadium (T-rac is the mascot of the Titans, our NFL franchise) and First Tennessee Park (home of Booster, the mascot for the Sounds, our minor league team).
While the names of the top professional athletes in our city change often (Hello P.K. Suban; Goodbye Shea Weber; howdy, Derrick Henry, see ya Michael Griffin), for many — especially children — the mascots are our constant connections to the teams. They are the most visible members of their teams, visiting schools and charity events 12 months per year.
So long before Nashville's youth start recognizing the faces of Marcus Mariota and Pekka Rinne, there's a very good chance that Gnash, T-Rac and Booster are already part of their vocabulary.