Friday, November 15, 2013

The Hippodrome: Eat The Whole Thing

Posted By on Fri, Nov 15, 2013 at 9:47 AM

This Week In The 'Drome, We're Going Big

I cant believe I ate the whole thing
  • I can't believe I ate the whole thing

Opening Face-Off

Penny vs. Pound: In this week's dead-tree, I proffer an idea: if the city is going to spend $65 million to build a stadium for a team that's valued for less than a third of that, why not just make the Sounds municipally-owned?

Right now, the Sounds — despite the Dean Administration's insistence otherwise — have no skin in the game. The team is expected — but not required — to build a $50 million development around the park, which the mayor goes on to say will happen whether the Sounds do it or not.

So a big chunk of this deal — to build a stadium that points the wrong way, mind — is based on a promise without a contract that the new tenants do something that is going to happen whether they do it or not.

If this is a huge mistake, the city should go all in and purchase the team, as Harrisburg, Penn. did with their hometown Senators when that team threatened to bolt despite getting a new stadium from that city. After a decade, the city sold the Senators for an Eastern League record $13 million-plus, more than twice what it paid originally.

Obviously, the value of the Sounds is going to go up and the current owners are in the catbird seat as it is, so the best time to have this discussion would have been a year or 18 months ago, but there's still an opportunity here.

Under the arrangement presented this week, the Sounds reap the benefit of the stadium: all the hot dog and beer and ticket revenue (plus revenue from the parking garage during home games). The city gets the property tax and sales tax that is supposed to be generated by the development. Why not capture all the revenue, hold on to the team for a decade or so and sell it off and retire that long-term debt early?

Just a modest proposal.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

The Hippodrome: The Hoopodrome

Posted By on Fri, Nov 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM

This Week In The 'Drome, We Talk About Basketball (Briefly)

Opening Face-Off


Inflated vs Deflated: This week in the Scene, I took a look at the looming Vanderbilt hoops season.

And "looming" might be the most appropriate word, used as it usually is to describe a sense of overarching doom and malaise. Vandy comes off a summer in which they lost an entire recruiting class to transfers and their best player from last season to suspension.

It's hard to make many judgments on a season, especially in college basketball from the semi-exhibitions (or in Vandy's case, an actual exhibition) that dot the early November calendar, but the 'Dores performance against Alabama-Huntsville Wednesday night won't calm any fears that Vandy will be sub-par.

The fact is, though, Stallings is often at his best when his teams are expected to be at their worse. He practically spent the entire winter gushing about his 16-17 team last year, heaping praise he never hoisted on the much more talented team from the year before.

If Vanderbilt fans are honest with themselves and can stomach another rebuilding year on the heels of what was supposed to be the rebuilding year (and with an upset of Kentucky and a semifinals appearance in the SEC tournament, that rebuild wasn't so bad as rebuilds go), Stallings may earn himself even more rope and more time to bring the program back to where the Black and Gold faithful expect it to be.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

The Hippodrome: Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Posted By on Fri, Nov 1, 2013 at 9:00 AM

This Week In The 'Drome We Still Sort Of Miss Him


Opening Face-Off

Wistful vs Hateful: The Titans head to St. Louis to face their former coach Jeff Fisher for the first time since his departure in the height of the Circus Era.

It won't be as dramatic as the first time the mustache graces the sideline at LP Field leading another team, but nonetheless, it's an emotional event.

Fisher, after all, was all Nashville knew — the man who led the Oilers and Titans through four stadiums, to a Super Bowl, into the early 2000s halcyon days and through the Vince Young Malaise.

The reaction has been and will be interesting. In sports fandom, the rules of the game require chest-puffing and lip-stiffening — a he's-not-ours-we-don't-care attitude that manifests more strongly with players than with coaches, but is still evident with coaches nevertheless.

And there will be moments of we-recognize-that levity — when Fisher calls the same between-the-tackles run three times in a row or when he sends out the field goal unit. That's to be expected. All the jokes stifled when he was Ours flow out now that he is Theirs.

What's shocking, though, is the amount of vitriol Fisher inspires. When David Boclair noted that it was Fisher acting as the face of the franchise in the wake of the death of Bud Adams, the level of anger spewed at Fisher was shocking. This was not a man who stole away in the night or torpedoed the team. The divorce from the Titans was as amicable as it could be — the relationship had wound to its conclusion, he'd outlived his usefulness and it was time for a change.

The change, though, was to a new coach and despite all the efforts to sever ties to the Fisher Era — notably this season by axing special-teams coach Alan Lowry for no particular reason, a decision that has been detrimental — Fisher's legacy is still strong.

The Titans didn't pick a coach whose philosophy was antipodal to Fisher — Munchak, at times, is even more Fishery than Fisher. In this week's dead-tree, I note that maybe Titans fans should pump the brakes on the Fisher hate — Munchak hasn't totally shaken his legacy and it is for lack of trying.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

The Hippodrome: Home Going

Posted By on Fri, Oct 25, 2013 at 8:45 AM

This Week In The 'Drome We're Back At Home


Opening Face-Off

Turned Us Out vs. Turned Us It: Titans owner Bud Adams died Monday at the age of 90, after a life of big oil, big sports and big gambles.

Forbes called Adams the most successful owner in NFL history, because of the massive return on investment he got for the $25,000 he initially laid out to get Houston an AFL franchise in 1960. The $1.06 billion the Titans are worth represents an annual 24 percent return — four times the annual growth of the S&P 500 in that time.

That's an testament to Adams' astute vision about the potential of pro football, but it's also a testament to Adams' ability to play the NFL's insidious game of public-financing — and that is his legacy to Nashville, at least in part.

The nearly $300 million LP Field was funded half by personal seat licenses — now considered very risky investments — and half through public dollars. Adams was able to extract these concessions from a city that, at the time, was desperate for national acclaim.

And so Adams should be lauded for either recognizing Nashville's desperation or for foreseeing Nashville's potential, depending on how you choose to look at it.

Did the Titans put Nashville on the map for more than just country music? It's arguable (but it's not accepted science either). He certainly put Nashville on the map as a place willing to lure billionaires with public money.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

The Hippodrome: Now With Extra Hips

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2013 at 8:30 AM

This Week In The 'Drome, Nashville Truly Gets Hip


Opening Face-off

The Way vs. The Truth: This week in the dead-tree I set up the Predators 2013-14 season, which opened Thursday at St. Louis.

All offseason long, we've heard about a return to The Predator Way — the oft-used shorthand Barry Trotz uses to describe how he wants his team to play, namely: being tough to play against.

There are multiple ways to achieve that end, of course. A team could, like the Predators, play tight defense, wear down their opponents, get top-level goaltending and hope for the odd goal to win it. A team could also go out and hang six on the scoreboard every night (don't expect that).

In certain circles, this proclamation was met with raised eyebrows, the curious wondering when the Preds abandoned their low-scoring ways, but that ignores the other half of the Tao of Trotz. No, the Predators don't (and likely won't) put up big numbers on the scoreboard; that hasn't changed. But last season, the Preds were all too often given to giving up far too many goals. When Trotz talks about getting back on the path, that's what he means.

No, the Predators don't have an established scorer, but they never have. Yes, they have four lines of forwards which could generously be described as "four second lines," but it's really four third lines. Reflexively, that seems bad, but as Sam Page noted earlier this summer, it's actually more like what the team had in 2010 when they very nearly slayed the Chicago giant, a team that went on to win the Cup.

And we learned there's a method to this as well. The Predators have taken the model that served them well and added a new emphasis this summer on carrying the puck, rather than dumping and chasing it. They acquired Minnesota's Matt Cullen — the Wild's most efficient puck-carrier — and focused on bringing the play into the zone, building off research done by PhD Eric Tulsky.

Whether this return-to-the-past model will work remains to be seen — it's a long season, but a team stocked with interchangeable parts is built for one.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

The Hippodrome: Falling Into Hate

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2013 at 6:30 AM

This Week In The 'Drome, We're Hoping There's Not A Repeat


Opening Face-Off

Kenny Britt vs Everyone (Including Himself): This week in the dead-tree, I take a look at Kenny Britt, his post-Week-Two Twitter tirade and his post-Week-Three humble pie.

In an age when the default position for someone who has failed is to dismiss criticism as "hating" and to stand by a position even if it's demonstrably the wrong one, it was refreshing for Britt to come out after the win against San Diego and admit he wasn't very good (for the second week in a row).

Now, it would be better if, instead of talking about how bad he played, Britt would instead play better, but baby steps are at least steps in the right direction.

Britt wasn't lying, of course, when he suggested the Titans were shutting him out of the offense. The coaches are, indeed, doing that, but in his tweet, Kenny didn't acknowledge the underlying reason for that:

He is playing badly. Very badly, at times. The system doesn't make him hold, the system doesn't make him drop passes, and, while talented, he's not so talented a receiver that he has the leeway to make errors because eventually his contributions will outweigh them.

It seems Britt wants to be better and that he's not going to shrug his shoulders at the criticism, but he has yet to actually be better. So he'll trod the sidelines until he is, until he demonstrates that watching he's better suited on the field as opposed to watching forlornly as the team puts together a thrilling drive without him.

And he might get there, but, for now, he isn't, but at least he's blaming himself and not casting aspersions on his haters.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

The Hippodrome: Beat 'Em And Beat 'Em Bad

Posted By on Fri, Sep 20, 2013 at 9:00 AM

This Week In The 'Drome: Superfans, super weird and super nicknames

Opening Face-Off

Something Old vs Something New: Just after last week's edition of The Hippodrome went live, we got word that Nashville superfan Chuck Ross had died.

This week in the dead-tree, I write about Ross and Nashville and how growing up as a sports town isn't the universal good it always seems.

We've grown as a sports town — we've added pro sports and a bowl game and championship tournaments and, this spring, a women's Final Four. We'll probably host an NHL All-Star Game soon enough and there are people who still won't shut up about the prospects of adding a Major League Baseball team or (even more improbably, somehow) an NBA team.

We kvetch over contracts and parse tweets and dig out slide rules to split and divide every statistic we can find.

And all of that is fine — people all enjoy sports in their own way, much as Frederick The Great of Prussia posited that every man must get to heaven his own way.

But, at some point, all of us were what Chuck remained to his last day — devoted singularly to our team, hoping they'd "beat 'em and beat 'em bad" and knowing, until the last second ticked off, there was always a chance.

Growing up means growing more knowledgeable. But as Adam and Eve learned when they took a bite of that fruit, knowledge means seeing everything — the blemishes, the indignities, the dark places. It's hard, sometimes, to enjoy the games when you know the big scary machine behind them.

Chuck was a reminder of what we used to know before we knew everything.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

The Hippodrome: Same As It Ever Was

Posted By on Fri, Sep 13, 2013 at 5:04 AM

This Week In The 'Drome We're Kicking It Back To The Old School

Never to be seen on a Titans sideline
  • Never to be seen on a Titans sideline

Opening Face-off

Tried & True vs. Something New: This week in the dead-tree, I note how the Titans won by going back and how the Preds will try to do likewise.

Sports change. The football of 2013 is not the football of 1969 or 1999 — or even 2007. Hockey has similarly evolved — multiple times. Offensive innovation is matched by defensive changes, which beget more offensive innovation and defensive adjustments, and then rules are changed "for the good of the game" (read: "for the good of the TV network coffers").

But the proverbial cat can be skinned in numerous ways, it's true. For all of Nick Saban's supposed innovation with the "process," his method of winning football is basically run and stop the run, which is cliché. Hockey teams win, more or less, by controlling the puck more than their opponent, and teams that consistently outshoot other teams consistently win. There's nothing new there. There are men we consider as innovators in football — Chip Kelly, late of Oregon, now of the Philadelphia Eagles, for example — who win with schemes that Saban would slur.

But win they do.

What Mike Munchak and Barry Trotz are hoping works, though, is a rehashing of old methods. Once successful, always so: argumentum ad antiquitatem.

In a general way, there's nothing wrong with that. But their systems specifically live within the margins. The Titans absolutely demolished the Steelers in time-of-possession, controlling the ball for more than 34 minutes of Sunday's game. And yet they won just by just a touchdown.

But win they did.

It remains to be seen if the cat being skinned is Schrodinger's. And if it is indeed alive or dead.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

The Hippodrome: Hope Floats

Posted By on Fri, Sep 6, 2013 at 9:00 AM

This Week The 'Drome Feels Hopeful (Sort Of)


Opening Face-Off

America's Pastime vs America's Heartburn:
This week in the dead-tree, I take a look at what to expect from the Titans, and how to expect it.

It's tough to make too many predictions based on the NFL's preseason — with its carefully calculated snap counts, scripted drives and frequent appearances by men who played college football at far-flung High Plains junior colleges, Canada and the Guamanian Indoor League.

That said, in a macro sense, the Titans showed us what they plan to do for the next 17 weeks — lots of running and a distilled passing game, decisions for Jake Locker boiled down to the minimum with routes rarely taking his receivers more than 15 yards downfield.

It's a smart strategy — building a playbook around a quarterback's capabilities, rather than forcing the quarterback to live inside a system that doesn't suit him. Chris Johnson looked brilliant at times and new back-up Shonn Greene relieves the pressure.

Defensively — which is where the Titans really needed improving — things still look shaky. It may be a matter of keeping things under 30 and hoping for the best on offense.

Football isn't baseball, with its summerlong promise. It's more of a four-month grind focused on avoiding errors and winning where you can. The Titans aren't going to threaten the Super Bowl — and with Houston and Indianapolis, they aren't really a threat to the division — but if they can make some breaks and get some help elsewhere, they may make themselves part of the playoff conversation.

Or they may go 6-10.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

The Hippodrome: Kicked Off

Posted By on Fri, Aug 30, 2013 at 9:45 AM

This Week, The 'Drome's Shaking Off Cobwebs


Opening Face-Off

Civic Legacies vs. Personal Legacies: This week in the dead-tree, I write about the potential new Sounds stadium (which will almost certainly look old).

In a vacuum, the idea of building Greer's replacement in Sulphur Dell is delightful. The city turns a massive parking lot into a shining civic structure that celebrates the past and replaces a relic that hardly deserves that name. Given what architectural firms have been able to do with the speculated budget (around $40 million), the stadium could be a showpiece.

That said, nothing except the space station is built in a vacuum.

The very practical how-do-we-pay-for-it question has yet to be answered, with the mayor's office saying they aren't ready to share it, though if they truly have been talking about a Sulphur Dell site since Opening Day in April, there's reason to believe they have a pretty good idea of the funding mechanism. All anyone is saying is that the Sounds will make a significant contribution (what that means is, naturally, left vague) with the balance to be paid by...taxpayers? Local businesses in the form of some kind of fee? A TIF? We don't know.

Generally, the idea of putting sports facilities in places where people either will go if they have a reason or already go is a good idea. The business owners on Lower Broadway are more than happy to tell you how much more robust their revenues are on nights when the Predators are at the arena. Putting the stadium on Jackson Avenue builds a bit of a bridge to Germantown with its restaurants and so forth. But Germantown is a residential area in a way downtown is not. Injecting 17,000 people into the entertainment district of Lower Broad 41 nights a year is one thing. Injecting 8,400 into a largely residential area 70-some-odd times a summer is a whole 'nother can of bananas.

Philosophically, one wonders when all the Nexting stops. Less than a week after news of the ballpark leaked, Mayor Karl Dean announced plans for further riverfront development. There was no breather, no delay. There's an $80 million Sulphur Dell project and a $30 or $40 million project on the river. How many things does downtown need? When will downtown stop needing new things?

And how are we paying for this?

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