Here’s a question Nashvillians won’t hear the NFL-Yes campaign boosters asking, at least not in public: Are 10,000 unsold tickets for an Oilers season opener that’s just one month away evidence that support for the team has been inflated all along?
It’s been more than two years since Nashville’s attention was captured by the frenzy over building a $292 million stadium for the Oilers. And now that Nashvillians are committed to paying the price, they may not even be able to watch the team on television in their own living rooms, since NFL rules dictate that game telecasts must be blocked in a host city if the home team doesn’t sell out. That’s what is expected to happen during this weekend’s preseason game against the Washington Redskins, and it may happen again on Sept. 13, when the Oilers play their first regular-season NFL game in Nashville.
The Oilers will be playing their home games in Vanderbilt’s 41,000-seat stadium. It’s the league’s smallest venue this season, and the organizers of the original NFL-Yes campaign are justifiably worried about not being able to fill it up. So they’re getting ready to splash their yellow-and-blue logo all over Nashville again.
“I’m just not sure this is a season-ticket-buying town yet,” says Chris Ferrell, a Metro Council member-at-large who voted against the funding package for the Oilers stadium. “We may need some time to build.” Nevertheless, he predicts that the team will ultimately get the support of Nashvillians. Ferrell says the opening of the handsome new stadium, scheduled for completion next year, will probably mitigate the lackluster ticket sales the Oilers are now experiencing.
Ferrell stops short of saying that support for bringing the Oilers to Nashville, then building the single-most expensive civic landmark in the city’s history, is inflated. But he does say the 1996 “NFL-Yes” referendum campaign was surrounded by “hype.”
Ferrell says the pro-Oilers forces “ran a very expensive and good campaign to get people to vote for this project. If all those people will go buy tickets, we’ll be all right.”
Mayor Phil Bredesen, who this week is taking his third week of vacation since May 1, is still leaving everyone guessing about his plans for, or even his interest in pursuing, a third mayoral term.
Bredesen traditionally concentrates his vacation time in the summer months, and, predictably, the practice causes some Metro Council members and other Bredesen detractors to roll their eyes. But, this time around, he’s also getting credit in some Council circles for putting in ample appearances at so many local functions.
According to the mayor’s office, Bredesen, serving in his capacity as the city’s leader, has attended scheduled events outside work hours at least 17 times since May 1. A sampling of Bredesen’s public appearances in the past few weeks alone includes Pearl High School’s 100th anniversary celebration, a ribbon cutting at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a Tennessee Golf Foundation event.
And those 17 appearances don’t include weekend days when Bredesen “simply decided to come in and work,” according to press secretary Mark Drury.
Bredesen’s work habits engender responses of resentment from some and praise from others. Some Metro Council members, for example, are pleasantly surprised that Bredesenmaybe a lame duck, maybe nothas continued, and even increased, his availability for local events. And they point to his active schedule (interrupted as it is by generous periods of personal vacation time) as yet another aspect of the mayor’s inscrutability. “No one can figure him out,” one Council member said. “No one can tell whether he wants to run again or not. I think he likes it that way.”
Others aren’t so generous. “If he’s got a big deal to work on, he’s here,” another Council member said. “If he doesn’t, he’s not around.”
Even before last week’s statewide primaries, Gov. Don Sundquist had already launched his re-election campaign, making stops around the state and taping at least four different television commercials.
Sundquist’s ads address issues ranging from low unemployment to his much-touted welfare-reform legislation to the passage of crime bills during his first term as governor.
And then there’s the one about keeping “evil” out of Tennessee.
In that commercial Sundquist proclaims, “The people of Tennessee acted and evil has not triumphed, nor will it triumph on our watch.” Some viewers have been stumped by that one.
Consider this explanation a public service: The quote comes from a speech Sundquist delivered last year when he signed legislation creating specific penalties for arson against churches in Tennessee.
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