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Seattle arena: Fusion of sports and music entertainment?

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A Seattle NHL team should look to Nashville as an example of how to build a city-flavored game experience for fans

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St Louis Blues v Nashville Predators - Game Four
Country singer Hunter Hayes performs during a recent Nashville Predators playoff intermission.
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

While we were waiting for some major NHL news to break last week in Seattle, Sportsnet reporter Elliott Friedman was laying down some great advice for whoever might eventually bring professional hockey to the Pacific Northwest.

Pay attention to what the Nashville Predators have done.

He wasn’t talking about what they’ve done on the ice, which has been impressive enough to reach the Stanley Cup Final this year before being eliminated in six games. He was talking about what they’ve done around the ice, about an atmosphere that Nashville is uniquely positioned to provide.

Prior to last Wednesday’s press conference, in which Oak View Group was officially selected to move forward with an NBA/NHL arena renovation at KeyArena, and at which Jerry Bruckheimer and Dave Bonderman were announced as OVG’s major NHL investors, Friedman said the following to KJR’s Ian Furness.

Every team in the NHL should take their game ops people to a game in Nashville and say “what do they do?” What they do is turn it into a party that fits their city. If you’ve ever been to a game here you know that the arena is right downtown, right next to a street called Broadway, which is all their famous country music saloons and stuff. it’s a party atmosphere.

I think when Vegas comes in next year, they’ve gotta follow it. If Seattle gets a team, the one thing I think you need to do is say to people “You’re coming here. You’re not just getting a hockey game. You’re getting an event that fits the city of Seattle.” That’s what they do here in Nashville, and I think that’s what you’ve got to do in sports nowadays. If you’re asking for people to take three hours of their time, you can’t always give them a great game. There’s going to be games during the year that are bad, and years where your team isn’t good. What else are you going to give them to entertain them? Nashville has done that very well.

In addition to pre and post-game musical integration with the local bar scene, the Predators make music a huge part of their in-game fan experience. Unlike some franchises that traditionally have the same artist perform the national anthem at every game, Nashville has had a different major musical group sing it at every playoff game. Team president Sean Henry told the Tennessean he likes to keep the artists’ identities secret until the last minute.

Simply put, Henry loves to build the anticipation. And that's exactly what he's done during the Preds' deep postseason run. In what's become a growing (and uniquely Nashville) tradition, a different Music City star or group has sung the "Star-Spangled Banner" before each playoff game. The secret singers have delivered memorable performances, helping to work the home crowd into a frenzy before the puck ever drops.

“The temptation is to announce and get people further hyped up,” he said. “I think it’s so much more special when people get surprised.”

The live music doesn’t stop with the Star Spangled Banner. The Predators have a house band that plays at intermission. During the playoffs, they’ve had some pretty big acts perform with that band. NBC Sports points out the following.

The Nashville Predators have reached their first Western Conference final in franchise history and that has spread hockey fever far beyond their arena and the team’s loyal legion of fans. Stars from Carrie Underwood to Lady Antebellum are lining up to sing the national anthem and the likes of John Hiatt to Lee Greenwood are singing with the house band during intermissions.

The penchant for live in-game music isn’t excluded to the playoffs. Though the acts aren’t always as famous, the Predators have different artists perform the anthem and at intermission throughout the the season, and have a process in place for local musicians to show off their act.

So let’s review. A city with a rich and proud musical tradition infuses that tradition into the in-game experience at NHL games, and it’s a huge success to the point where Predator fans are becoming known as the loudest in the league.

Is there another city with a rich and proud musical tradition that could do something similar if it were awarded an NHL expansion franchise? Seattle may not be as big as Nashville from a music recording perspective, but our city takes a back seat to very few places in the world in regard to music history and passion.

Could Seattle put together some pretty amazing acts to sing the national anthem and to do mini-concerts during intermission? During playoff runs when the weather warms up, could we have pre-game concerts in a neighboring courtyard the arena that often hosts massive music festivals? Could an ownership group that partners with Live Nation have access to artists for these things that most teams can only dream of? The answers seem self-evident.

But Seattle isn’t Nashville, and we’d have to do it with our own flavor.

While Nashville focuses primarily on country acts, a Seattle team would need to seek music that more accurately reflects the variety of our region. From smaller local acts to World touring groups, Blue Scholars, Minus the Bear, Macklemore, Brandi Carlile, Modest Mouse, Robert Delong, and Pearl Jam represent just a sliver of the diversity at our fingertips.

Of course, with Live Nation in the mix, we wouldn’t be restricted to local talent. Bonderman could even snag someone like Paul McCartney, as he did for his 70th birthday party in the video below.

To “turn it into a party that fits” the Seattle culture, it might even need to go beyond music. The beverages served should reflect the proud culture of local breweries in the Emerald City. From a more regional perspective, the wines of Eastern Washington could also be served.

There are a million different things that could be done, and these are the kinds of things local arena and team investors need to be thinking of to capture the hearts of our region.