Just over two decades ago, the very thought of Music City becoming home to one major professional sports team—let alone two—was unthinkable to many in the region.
But the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans are gearing up for their 22nd season in town, a tenure that’s seen the team reach one Super Bowl and more recently, a record three straight winning seasons.
Across the Cumberland River sits the National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, who advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017 and recently completed their 20th season.
The Nashville Sounds, Class Triple-A affiliate to Major League Baseball’s Texas Rangers, have long been a Music City pastime. Far newer to the local sports scene is Nashville SC, which is competing in its second season in the United Soccer League. That team is a precursor for a Major League Soccer franchise, scheduled to begin play in 2020.
What’s the fan experience like at these various venues?
We’ll start at Nissan Stadium, where upwards of 60,000 fans have gathered on Sundays recently to watch the Titans put together three straight winning seasons.
The atmosphere starts to build well before home games, as many supporters park downtown before strolling over the picturesque John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge and entering the stadium parking lot.
“We always walk down by the (Cumberland) river on the way to the stadium because it’s so beautiful,” says season ticket-holder Jody Shuba, who’s been attending games with husband Mark, daughter Sarah and son Luke from the franchise’s earliest days. “Especially in late fall, when the temperature might be 75 or 80 degrees, it’s a great environment.“
In a city that’s made a stellar food reputation for itself, it’s no surprise that quality tailgaters abound outside the stadium. Just ask original season ticket-holder Sid Curry, whose family often enjoys a Sunday feast put together by friends.
“There’s everything from smoked ribs to mac-and-cheese and greens to cornbread they bring from home,” Curry says. It’s a Southern home-cooked slate full of comfort food.”
Music plays a big part in the day’s experience as well, ranging from a versatile arena band that starts cranking out tunes hours before kick-off, to the weekly rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”—played with lyrics on the big screen just before the start of the fourth quarter.
Traditions play a big part across the river at Bridgestone Arena, where the Predators had recorded 150 straight sellouts at the end of the 2018-19 regular season.
Visitors at big games shouldn’t be surprised to see a a few catfish hurled onto the ice, as they’re Nashville’s Southern-fried answer to the Detroit Red Wings’ habit of throwing an octopus on the ice before playoff games. It’s not uncommon to see local celebrities such as Carrie Underwood or Luke Bryan sing the National Anthem before playoff games.
Nashville Sounds and SC
Nashville SC fans get charged up well before the game, as its four official supporters groups—The Roadies, The Assembly, Music City Supporters and Eastern Front— march into First Tennessee Park 30 minutes before kick-off. Whenever Nashville SC scores, blue-and-gold smoke bombs are set off from a truck in front of the supporters’ section.
Then there are the Sounds’ home baseball games, also at First Tennessee Park, where fans get a huge reminder that they’re in Music City, courtesy of The Big Guitar Scoreboard. Its popular Band Box is an outdoor bar located in right field with ping-pong tables, cornhole and shuffleboard.