(Re)Building a Brand in the Minor Leagues: The Nashville Ice Flyers, 1997-98
Friedman, Michael T., Mason, Daniel S., Sport Marketing Quarterly
Though not glamorous, working for a minor league sports team could be one of the most fun and challenging areas of the sports industry. Due to small staff sizes and limited budgets, employees will be called upon to perform several different tasks that demand a wide range of knowledge and skills. This case study comes directly from the experience of the lead author, who, in four years of working in both baseball and hockey, felt as if he did everything but play, and ended up as the president of the Nashville Ice Flyers of the Central Hockey League during the 1997-98 season.
In examining the sole season of the Ice Flyers, the organization started and operated in circumstances in which achieving success was extremely difficult, if not impossible. Of the eight years of consecutive operations of minor league hockey in the city, the Ice Flyers franchise was Nashville's third in three years and featured the sixth ownership group in five seasons. Moreover, the most recent team, the NightHawks, had both the worst financial and on-ice performance of any of the eight previous seasons. Finally, the imminent arrival of the city's first National Hockey League (NHL) franchise, the Nashville Predators, added further to the Ice Flyers' challenges. Nonetheless, it is very rare in any business to operate in ideal, textbook conditions, and working in the sports industry (or anywhere for that matter) frequently demands that employees make the best of a bad situation.
This case study is one such exercise, as readers are asked to assume the role of the Ice Flyers' general manager with the responsibility of making key operational decisions based upon the dilemmas faced by the organization. To assist readers in their decision making, a list of the 10 operational risks identified in the Ice Flyers' business plan and investor prospectus appears in Table 1. Then, overviews of the Nashville market and the local sports industry, as well as the history of minor league hockey in the city of Nashville, provide context for the readers' decision making. Finally, after being provided information on the immediate situation surrounding the team and parts of the organization's business plan, readers have to make decisions on four different operational challenges that faced the Ice Flyers.i
Market Profile (General)
In the mid-1990s, Nashville was a city in transition. While internationally known for country music and self-identified as "Music City, USA," Nashville was in the midst of substantial growth, which despite its "slick hick" image, had vaulted the city (and surrounding area) into a top 30 market amongst US cities. Moreover, Nashville was headquarters for several Fortune 500 companies, including Columbia Healthcare and Service Merchandise, and a major regional center in the Southeast for finance, insurance, auto manufacturing, and transportation.
While Nashville had been growing since the 1980s, aggressive leadership under Mayor Phil Bredesen in the 1990s accelerated the city's growth with a pro-business strategy that focused on attracting major corporations. Besides attracting Columbia Healthcare to establish its corporate headquarters in Nashville, the city had several other successes, including attracting corporate headquarters for MagneTek and Dollar General, a manufacturing facility for Dell Computers, and a major financial processing center from Metlife.
As part of this strategy, Bredesen and the Chamber of Commerce also sought to improve the recreational amenities available in the downtown area. Despite its reputation as Music City, USA, Nashville did not possess a single indoor venue suitable to host the most popular country music artists. While international country music broadcasts originated from the new Grand Old Opry (which replaced the legendary Ryman Auditorium in 1974), the building's capacity was 4,400 and was located nine miles from downtown. Conversely, the 1960s-era Municipal Auditorium was located downtown and could seat 10,000 for concerts (8,000 for ice hockey), but was several blocks outside the city's redevelopment zone and had a poor reputation for quality as an entertainment venue among artists and residents alike. …