NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Timing had been the only question about Nashville hosting the NHL All-Star game, and the league finally has the answer.
Music City will be hosting the league’s showcase event in 2016 on Jan. 30-31 at Bridgestone Arena — home to the Nashville Predators.
“It’s not too far back to remember that Nashville was a terrific host for the 2003 NHL draft, and we know if that’s any indication of what to expect it’s going to be wonderful,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Friday.
The Predators hosted the NHL’s entry draft in 2003 and have been on a short list to host the All-Star game. But Nashville needed a bigger downtown convention center to host all the surrounding festivities.
Bettman said officials both with the Predators and Nashville have been asking him about Music City hosting the All-Star game for years. The only issue was working out logistics with hotels and opening the city’s new convention building, the Music City Center, in May 2013.
With Bridgestone Americas CEO Gary Garfield on hand, Bettman said he knows the next question he’ll be asked is when Nashville hosts a Winter Classic game.
“Let’s do them one at a time,” Bettman said. “Let’s get through the All-Star game first, and then we can have that discussion.”
An expansion club that started play in 1998-99, Nashville becomes the last of the league’s Southern franchises to host the All-Star game. Florida, which had a franchise-low 7,311 in attendance Monday night, staged the game in 2003. Tampa Bay hosted in 1999, and Carolina had the game in 2011.
Even Atlanta, which later lost the Thrashers to Winnipeg, hosted the 2008 All-Star game.
Nashville was the site of the Women’s Final Four in April and is a finalist to host again between 2017 and 2020 at Bridgestone Arena, home of the Predators since their inaugural season in 1998-99. The arena also is to host the Southeastern Conference men’s basketball tournament nine of the next 10 years starting in March.
The arena also is the venue for the annual Country Music Association Awards each November, where Nashville rolls out an actual red carpet for the music industry. Singer Vince Gill was on hand for the announcement, and Predators chief executive officer Jeff Cogen promised the singer will be involved in the festivities during All-Star weekend.
“We look forward to rolling out the red carpet in 2016 for our visitors and using our Southern hospitality to welcome them in a way that only Nashville can,” Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said.
This is validation for local ownership that bought the Predators in 2007 amid speculation over the franchise’s future in Nashville. Original owner Craig Leipold had a deal to sell the team to Canadian Jim Balsillie that fell through when the billionaire started taking season ticket deposits in Hamilton.
Predators chairman Tom Cigarran said he stepped up that year to keep Nashville from losing a major league franchise. Cigarran said there haven’t been questions about struggling attendance or whether the team would leave Nashville in at least three years.
“It’s hard to imagine or think back to 2010,” Cigarran said. “This franchise was struggling, and it’s come a long way. We’re no longer struggling. This franchise is going to be in this city forever.”
The Predators sold out two of their first three home games to start this season. Bettman said the local ownership has been great.
“We were never as concerned as some of the speculation was about the future of the franchise,” Bettman said. “We knew with Tom and his partners we were in good hands.”
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