Tuesday, June 18, 2013

New Ice, New Opportunities

The announcement by the City of Nashville for the construction of a new hockey center in the Hickory Hollow area of Nashville is good news for the development of the game and of young players that need ice time to hone their skills.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced the construction of a new hockey center along with other improvements in the Antioch area of the city. The new center will have two sheets of ice, 8 locker rooms, several multi-purpose rooms, a pro shop, a concession stand and room for other restaurants in the 86,000 square foot facility.

The City of Nashville will own the facility and it will be leased and operated by the Predators.

The addition of the new ice is critical for the growth of the game in Middle Tennessee. Currently, there are 4 sheets of ice available to the public, which means scheduling for practice, games, and camps is at a premium.

More importantly, it allows the hockey culture in this area to grow. Practice facilities and ice time are essential, especially for younger players, to continue to develop the game.

Is there a need for a facility- or additional facilities- such as this?

The answer is an overwhelming "yes".

Here are some numbers from USA Hockey:

In 1999, Tennessee  had 1,176 youth hockey players, defined as participants from Termite to high school age players. Not all of the these players were in Middle Tennessee, but it is a logical presumption that a majority were, coinciding with the arrival of the Predators in Nashville.

By 2005-06, the number of players in the state had grown to 2,080. Despite a lack of facilities, youth participation grew 20% in 2006-07, to 2,495 players.

At the end of 2012, there were 2,880 players.

Imagine how the game can, and I believe will, grow with additional facilities and the availability of ice time.

To put this in perspective, consider the participation in Texas. In 1990, there were 868 youth hockey players registered with USA Hockey. At the end of 2012, there were nearly 11,000, an amazing increase of 1,156%

Why has this happened?

The obvious starting point is the relocation of the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas. While having a hockey team certainly generates interest in the game, the growth in the Texas market goes beyond the presence of a professional hockey team.

The Stars were heavily involved in the development of ice rinks around the Dallas metroplex and fostering the growth of the game. The Stars organization invested time, money, and manpower in developing the game in their market.

And that is why hockey is thriving in Texas.

Predators CEO Jeff Cogen, who came to the organization from the Dallas Stars, is an astute marketer, among other qualities, and knows that increasing the participation opportunities and rates among the youth of Middle Tennessee grows the hockey culture. And growing a healthy hockey culture is foundational to putting fans in the stands.

There are some who will say that hockey doesn't belong in "non-traditional" markets. These participation numbers resoundingly say otherwise. Hockey is growing - and thriving- in places that were not part of the hockey landscape twenty years ago.

And that is good for the health of the game.

Here is the press release from the Predators:

In front of more than 500 citizens, Mayor Dean announced that the city will invest more than $14 million into the Global Mall area. The plans include a massive new library, which replaces the smaller existing structure located further down Bell road and a community center, that includes a gym, walking track, several mulch-function rooms and even a rooftop terrace to hold events and concerts. Outside of the community center will sit a 3.7-acre park in what is now a parking lot.
The biggest piece to the city’s investment in Antioch is the construction of a new hockey center. The new two-story, 86,000-square-foot facility will house two ice rinks, eight locker rooms, several multiple-function rooms, concession stands, a pro-shop, a workout facility, a video room and space for restaurants or other vendors that is scheduled to open in summer 2014.

“We are so grateful to the Mayor and Metro for recognizing the many benefits of our public/private partnership,” Nashville Predators CEO Jeff Cogen said. “This facility will provide a new location for the community to gather and socialize, and hockey tournaments and figure skating events that will be hosted here will bring significant economic impact to the area with increases in demand for local lodging, dining, shopping and entertainment. The Predators are dedicated to contributing to the economic impact, general well-being and quality of life, not only in this community but for all of Middle Tennessee.”

While Metro Nashville will build and own both the community center and hockey center, the Preds will be the sole managers of the ice rink. The Predators, who will lease the hockey center from the city, will work with Metro to develop a workforce program that will include job training and internship programs.

In addition to creating jobs, the benefits of this rink are far-reaching, as hockey players and families who used to travel to the current ice facilities in the area from Rutherford County, Wilson County and beyond will now have a rink more centralized to their location. The new rink will serve as a hub to the Preds hockey programs, but the club will continue to provide beginner hockey courses like the highly successful Get Out and Learn Program (G.O.A.L!) and other learn-to-skate classes and hockey lessons at area rinks, in addition to youth tournaments and leagues.

"More rinks equal more opportunities for people of all levels and ages to get involved in the game of hockey, growing the Nashville Predators fan base and creating new ambassadors of the sport,” Cogen said.

Overall, the investment in Southwest Davidson County could approach nearly $32 million with improvements to local business and retail centers, while also investing in the community with additional recreation areas and green spaces.

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