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VOL. 43 | NO. 18 | Friday, May 3, 2019

Titans hope draft enthusiasm carries into season

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The NFL Draft has come and gone from Nashville, taking with it the elaborate stage, celebrity guests and an estimated 600,000 visitors to downtown over its three-day run.

But the bigger question is what will the draft leave behind for a city that seemed to have lost some enthusiasm for its franchise.

There was skepticism when the NFL arrived 20 years ago as to whether our small market – tasting major professional sports for the first time – was ready to be a big-league city.

With their new stadium, a run to the Super Bowl and a streak of sellouts that would last for years, the 1999 Titans were immediately and fully embraced.

But that enthusiasm waned over time. Ten years in, the Titans’ play began to slip. A flurry of coaching changes, lackluster front office hires and botched draft picks contributed to the decline, and fan dedication slipped, though not as far as the team’s on-field performance.

Nissan Stadium (or any of its previous names) was often – depending upon the opponent – either not full or filled with the opposition’s fans.

The franchise became rudderless when team owner and founder Bud Adams died in 2013.

Things have improved on the field in recent seasons, but fan interest is still not where is was in the first decade.

But team president Steve Underwood, a longtime Titan executive, says the overwhelming success of last week’s draft might rekindle some of the old enthusiasm that once made the Titans the talk of the town.

“I think this will give us a huge chance to reconnect with fans that over time have not been as interested in coming to the stadium,” he says. “They still renew their season tickets, and they still come to some games, but what we want is our season-ticket members to attend every game that we have in the building.

“It’s not just having them there, but it’s the fact that it adds so much to the game experience. And, yes, I do think having the draft here will give us a chance to have a renaissance with our season ticket members and our more avid fans.

“They’re going to see the impact of the draft firsthand.”

The Titans also are hoping the draft hooks casual fans who have been to fewer games in the past few years.

“The uniqueness of the draft as an event will give us a chance to capture some more casual fans who are not as invested, as say our season ticketholders, but offer the casual fan a glimpse into how impactful our sport and our league can be and give us a chance to win them over,” Underwood says.

There are other benefits to the draft’s success, as well. Not the least of which is that it can continue to show that the club’s ownership – under the leadership of Amy Adams Strunk – continues to solidify itself within league circles.

That is rather remarkable considering the league’s concern following Adams’ death. Ownership structure and the botched regime of Tommy Smith fueled rumors the team was for sale.

“After Mr. Adams passed away in 2013, I believe there was some disconnect with the league in terms of the next generation of leadership, and I think our efforts to host the draft, and Nashville’s connections as a host city, gave us a chance to strengthen those bonds, not just with the league but with the commissioner,” Underwood says.

“As you know, Commissioner (Roger) Goodell came here to meet with those who donated generously to help defray some of the expenses associated with the draft, and everyone who came to the reception was impressed with his warmth and his willingness to communicate one-on-one with those who had donated or were being asked to donate.

“And I think he got to see firsthand the impact that the Titans have on Nashville and what it means to have the opportunity to host the draft. I think the league putting the draft here was in some ways was an indication of an acceptance of the job Amy has done in turning around our franchise and restoring our fans’ faith in our ability to compete at a high level. Roger got to see all that firsthand.”

And what Goodell, the league and the rest of the world got to see was a runaway success that Nashville was indeed more than up to the challenge of hosting the draft.

On Thursday night, just as things were getting underway, veteran NFL reporter Adam Schefter tweeted out that “Drafts in NY, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas were tremendous and all were great hosts. There never has been a scene like this for any draft in any sport, ever. Nashville’s insane.”

Even TV viewers loved it. More than 47.5 million watched during the three-day event, an increase of 5% compared to 2018.

Even Titans General Manager Jon Robinson, who had more important things on his plate than watching the crowd last weekend, couldn’t help but notice the image that Nashville (assisted by the Titans) projected for the world to see.

“It was unbelievable. Every time they scanned Broadway, the fans, the crowd ... I think there’s a respect factor that comes with this city and this state now, because we lived up to the hype,” Robinson said.

The Titans now must find a way to funnel that hype and energy into Nissan Stadium this fall.

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