The Pittsburgh Penguins won their second straight NHL championship with two late goals in game six of the finals, at last breaking the Nasvhille Predators' home ice advantage from the delirious fans at Bridgestone Arena.
Before their noisy crowd, the Predators fell short, with a goal taken away on a dubious referees' call and offensive futility. The Predators were held scoreless, even when they had a 5-3 player advantage after the calling of two penalties on the Penguins.
The Predators' playoffs run turned into an endearing Cinderella saga, drawing fans from the entire Southeast. In Nashville, Stanley Cup mania raged, with players from the NFL Tennessee Titans and country music stars flocking to Predators games.
America's sweetheart Carrie Underwood, married to Predators captain Mike Fisher, highlighted the town's infatuation. NBC interviewed Underwood, touting her starring role as the singer of the theme song for the network's Sunday Night NFL football.
A smaller, inland Southern city, Nashville broke new ground with its appearance in the Stanley Cup finals, following Sunbelt cities Miami, Tampa Bay and Dallas, whose urban makeups differ from the Tennessee state capital's.
The hockey team's success is the latest appearance in the national spotlight for booming Nashville, which in recent years has received widespread media attention. ABC explored the city's music industry in its prime time soap "Nashville," which has now moved to Country Music Television. National newspapers like The New York Times frequently feature Nashville's fashion, restaurant, and recreational scenes. Along with country music, the city's economy includes health, insurance, banking, government and education.
The Predators' success dispels the myth built after Atlanta lost two NHL teams that old Southern cities won't support hockey. Atlanta's loss of the Flames and the Thrashers were the result of pressure to increase hockey's Canadian prescence rather than poor fan support. Both teams fled to Canadian cities.
Unlike with Atlanta, the NHL appears committed to much smaller Nashville, where the Predators have laid the foundation for long-term success. Perhaps Nashville's music-industry glamor is seen by the NHL as a better marketing match than Atlanta's bland corporate image. Nashville's country music stars play better to middle America than Atlanta's black-oriented hip hop industry.
Economists say that sports arenas' economic benefits are overrated, but Nashville's Bridgestone Arena has boosted the city's downtown, serving as a concert, convention and awards show site as well as sports. The SEC basketball tournament is another Bridgestone jewel.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, ESPN showed scenes of Nashville fans gathered on the streets outside of the arena, many of them without tickets. Unlike Atlanta, where Arthur Blank's Mercedes-Benz stadium rises next to the doomed Georgia Dome and the Hawks plan to renovate Philips Arena, Nashville has a thriving downtown with a connected cluster of attractions.
In contrast to Atlanta, Nashville's sites are within walking distance of each other. Down Broadway, Nashville's main downtown street, a lively collection of music clubs and bars draw large crowds until late. The honkey tonk strip is near the historic Ryman Auditorium and its constant lineup of popular acts.
Across Broadway lies the Bridgestone, part of a complex that includes two convention centers, with a huge parking desk that at times gives a sense of isolation and urban threat. The first-class Country Music Hall of Fame is adjacent to the Bridgestone and the convention complex. Local businesses like the Hatch Printing Co., known for its classic music posters, broaden the appeal. Smaller museums like one devoted to Johnny Cash bring in country fans.
Other attractions within easy walking distance are the Nashville Symphony Hall, the wonderful downtown library, the Tennesssee State Capitol, a walking bridge over the Cumberland River, an outdoors music venue, and the stadium where the Tennessee Titans play. A little farther down Broadway on the other side of downtown lies Nashville's fine art museum and quieter, more elegant restaurants.
Atlanta's downtown scene, with its separated islands of success, shows an absence of integrated planning. The Mercedes Benz Stadium and the Philips Arena renovation will revitalize the areas surrounding them, but are unlikely to unite the entire downtown area.
A Hawks appearance in the NBA finals would heighten fan interest, but the team hasn't advanced that far in the playoffs since the 1950s. The College Football Hall of Fame is close to the stadium and Philips. But the fortress-like CNN Center's food court cuts off a sense of vibrant street life. The Georgia Aquarium, Coke and civil rights museum on the other city of Centennial Olympic Park are a bit far for walking from these sites, except for robust urban adventurers.
Underground Atlanta's redevelopment is touted by city officials, but whether the latest version of Atlanta's original shopping district will connect with the sports arenas' growth is doubtful. Unfortunately, the Underground Atlanta plans appear designed to bring separation from the surrounding organic development that has cropped up.
The Atlanta Streetcar is one benefit that public transit-adverse Nashville lacks, but early safety problems and a limited coverage area has kept ridership low. The completion of the Beltline streetcar should help Atlanta's downtown line draw riders.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at the end of Sunday night's Stanley Cup clincher fulsomely praised Nashville and its support for the Predators. Too bad Atlanta and its muddled downtown can't duplicate that success.