Nashville Predators’ Endorsement of Acting Mayor David Briley ‘A Sleazy Quid Pro Quo’

David Briley and Sean Henry

Sports teams can receive handsome rewards for supporting public officials…. The Jackson Generals receive over 1.2 million annually in financial incentives.


The Tennessee Star

The Nashville Predators’ unprecedented endorsement of Acting Mayor David Briley in this Thursday’s special mayoral election in Nashville/Davidson County is “a sleazy quid pro quo,” one long time Tennessee Republican political operative tells The Tennessee Star.

The definition of “quid pro quo” is “something that is given or taken in return for something else.”

In this case, the long time Republican operative says the “quid” that is given is the Predators’ endorsement of Acting Mayor David Briley.

The “quo” that is provided in return, the operative says, is the financial benefit to the Predators franchise from lower lease terms they anticipate in receiving from Metro Nashville under a potential administration of David Briley should he be elected on Thursday.

The Predators, who have been the beneficiaries of millions of dollars in subsidies provided by the state of Tennessee and the Metro Nashville/Davidson County Government, are in the process of renegotiating the team’s lease of the Bridgestone Arena with Metro Nashville. Recently, the Predators hired two high powered lobbying firms, The Ingram Group, and Hall Public Strategies, to lobby Metro Nashville on their behalf.

The Tennessee Star reported on Sunday that the recent financial disclosures by Acting Mayor Briley’s campaign show that both the Ingram Group and Hall Public Strategies made big donations to the Briley campaign. Employees of The Ingram Group contributed $4,500 to Briley, while employees of Hall Public Strategies contributed $3,250.

“But even in an era where politics seeps into every conversation we have now — seriously, just say the word ‘Trump’ in a public place and see what happens — the Nashville Predators have appeared to break new ground with a definitive, team-supported endorsement of a political candidate,” mainstream media sportswriter Jay Busbee conceded in an article at Yahoo Sports last week.

As far as The Star can determine, no major league professional franchise has ever endorsed a candidate for mayor in the city where they are located. Indeed, The Star was unable to find any instance of a modern era major league professional franchise endorsing any political candidate.

“Briley is one of 13 candidates running to fill out the final year of former mayor Megan Barry, who resigned earlier this year. Briley is a progressive figure in a progressive city. Briley also happens to be the current head of a city government that the Predators are negotiating with regarding a longer-term lease at Bridgestone Arena. Make of those facts what you will,” Busbee added.

“Last night the Nashville Predators did something I’ve never seen an American pro sports franchise do — they endorsed a candidate running for political office,” Nashville talk radio host Clay Travis wrote at Outkick the Coverage after the endorsement news broke last week:

This represents an incredible step — a pro sports franchise playing in a city-owned arena is allowing a mayoral candidate in a crowded mayoral election to Tweet out a team’s endorsement from his own Twitter account.

Aside from being insanely dumb — Preds fans, like all sports fans have a variety of political opinions — this represents a further politicization of sports. This isn’t the CEO of the Preds endorsing a candidate he likes in his own life — team owners and CEOs, just like players and you and me, have the right to do as they please when it comes to their political opinions — this is a pro sports franchise endorsing a single political candidate.

I’ve honestly never seen this before and I think it’s bad for our country to be politicizing every aspect of our lives, including teams endorsing political candidates.

“Pro sports teams should not be super PACs. It’s that simple,” Tom Joyce wrote at Lifezette about the Predators’ endorsement of Briley.

“Sports teams should focus on sports. If they want to give back to the community because they make a lot of money, great — but there’s a difference between giving back and trying to be a political pundit or activist,” Joyce added.

For his part, Predators CEO Sean Henry proudly doubled down on his decision to curry favor with Briley for a potential financial benefit to his team, thereby severely damaging what had until recently been one of the hottest brands in professional sports.

“I’m glad we don’t just stick to sports,” Henry told The Tennessean.

“I’m glad that we can leverage the attention that people have for our logo, to take things that we think are important moving forward,” he added:

Henry, asked why the team endorsed in the race, said the organization is proud that it has supported political candidates, including Mayor Karl Dean, former Gov. Phil Bredesen and Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as causes such as a statewide voter registration drive.

“We like how things are going,” Henry said. “From Gov. Haslam to Mayor and Gov. Bredesen to Mayor Dean, to (Mayor) Rodgers Anderson in Williamson County, to even a judge or two, we like the progress of Nashville, and we’re excited about that. I think our support of Mayor Briley shows that we believe he’s going to continue that.”

Henry said the team has fielded about two dozen emails about the Briley endorsement, with about half applauding the move and the other half saying, “Why would you ever do this?”

The damage to the Predators brand, however, may already be irreparable.

“I followed the Preds last year and this year. I went to games and bought merchandise. No more. They have lost me as a fan. I hope they lose every game next year,” local attorney Judson Phillips tells The Star.

The Predators’s support of Mayor Karl Dean, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Gov. Haslam, however, has not been demonstrated in a political endorsement of either of these three candidates yet. That support has been shown primarily by acknowledging these three figures publicly at Predators home games.

Henry’s decision to drop the names of former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and former Gov. Phil Bredesen could be an indication that the Predators franchise intends to further politicize its brand in the coming months with potential endorsements of Dean and Bredesen, both Democrats.

Karl Dean is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, and is considered the front runner in the Democratic primary. In the general election the Democratic nominee will face one of four potential GOP contender: Randy Boyd, Bill Lee, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), or Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville).

Phil Bredesen is running unopposed for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee. He will face Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07), who is running unopposed for the Republican nomination, in the November general election.

“The precedent set here by a pro sports franchise endorsing a political candidate is incredibly troubling. Particularly when the Nashville Predators recently introduced Senate candidate Phil Bredesen, the Democrate running in the state of Tennessee, on the ice before a playoff game and praised him over the loudspeaker. Is it really appropriate for a team to bring a political candidate running for elective office from one party onto the ice in a city-owned arena and praise him?” Outkick the Coverage’s Travis asked.

The Nashville Predators and Acting Mayor David Briley apparently think so.

The voters of Nashville/Davidson County may not. We will learn something of what they think about this unprecedented endorsement when the election results in the special mayoral election start coming in when the polls close at 7 pm on Thursday night.

We will learn what Predators fans who live in Middle Tennessee but outside of Davidson County think when the Predators return to their home ice in the fall.

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