Predators' COO: “We're Better When We're Diverse and Embrace Differences”

Nashville's do-it-all chief operating officer, Michelle Kennedy, is at the forefront on a team that already has a lot of experience in growing its fanbase from scratch. Now it's time to focus on fans from underrepresented communities.
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It’s an open-ended question, admittedly, but ask Nashville Predators chief operating officer Michelle Kennedy how it is she got to where she is today and prepare yourself for a whirlwind. In this telling, it’s an eight-minute tale with a couple twists and turns. Kennedy touches on her time in Kentucky public school, her four seasons on the hardcourt at Vanderbilt University, pivoting from dreaming of medical school and a future as a doctor to a degree in economics, a mid-30s leap into law school and, eventually, a spot with the Predators, with whom she’s climbed the ranks from in-house counsel to general counsel to chief financial officer to her current post.

“That's it in a nutshell,” Kennedy concludes, with a hint of southern charm. “It’s kind of a big nutshell, a circuitous nutshell, but that's it.”

Given her background – and Kennedy cracks that being a CPA with a law degree is her “professional double disability” – it should come as no surprise, then, that she has her fingerprints all over the Predators’ day-to-day operations. The idea of a typical day borders on alien to Kennedy. On any given day, she could be dealing with local or state government officials, working with the owners on a governance issue, assisting with a ticketing strategy or giving her input on an initiative the franchise’s foundation is planning to undertake. But that’s not all. “I directly supervised the general counsel, CFO, the vice president for (human resources) and our vice president for community relations, so those are my core areas,” Kennedy added. “But I really do get involved in everything we do.”

It’s the work in the community that’s especially near and dear to the heart of Kennedy and a priority of those within the organization. She came aboard with the franchise in March 2008, and it was not long before then, in mid-2007, that a fan-led ticket drive thwarted the sale and potential relocation of the franchise north of the border. Nowadays, it’d be difficult to convince new NHL fans there was ever turmoil in Nashville, which has transformed into something of a hockey hotbed and a legitimate expansion success story for the league. That’s why the Predators believe it’s their duty to support the very community that supported them in their time of need. At the same time, it allows the franchise to expand their footprint.

Kennedy sees those efforts paying dividends in the stands at Bridgestone Arena. “We now have first generation adults now who have been hockey fans their whole life,” she said. “That's something we didn't have, and it's not something you think about when you're in a hockey-rich market like (Canada), but we had to create those fans.”

She sees room to create plenty more, too, particularly by reaching out to women and underrepresented segments of the population. Truthfully, she added, it’s no different than the process the Predators undertook to convert fans within a community where born-and-bred hockey fans are few and far between. Bolstering the fanbase within those communities – and incorporating members of those groups within the front office, as well – only stands to make the off-ice and on-ice product better.

“It just makes no sense to me or our organization that our sport shouldn't look more like our community,” Kennedy said. “We take great pride in being a part of everything that happens in our community. And being a force of good in our community, this is one of those things in that same space. We're better when we're diverse and embrace differences and use those differences and that dialogue to elevate everything we do.”

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