NICE ICE: Ford Ice Center Clarksville recently opened alongside the new F&M Bank Arena. (Courtesy Venue)

Rinks are Icing on the NHL Club’s Cake

The Ford Ice Centers in Middle Tennessee are ice breakers for the Nashville Predators. The NHL-size rinks are popular destinations for families and hockey leagues, which drive interest and participation in ice sports in the Predators’ back yard. 

Ice is good for business. 

The third Ford Ice Center Clarksville recently opened alongside the new F&M Bank Arena, which is owned by Montgomery County and managed by Sabertooth Sports & Entertainment (SS&E), which is owned and operated by Predators Holdings, LLC. The 250,000-square-foot sports and entertainment facility sits 50 miles northwest of Nashville.

ICE BREAKERS: Clarksville (Tennessee) Mayor Joe Pitts, left, Austin Peay University President Michael Licari, Mia Golden, Montgomery County Mayor Wes Golden, Former Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett, Predators Chief Executive Officer Sean Henry and Austin Peay Director of Athletics Gerald Harrison cut ribbon at F&M Bank Arena. (Courtesy venue)

The complex, which includes two NHL sheets of ice, cost $130 million. The project was conceived by then Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett and funded by the Montgomery County Commission in November 2019, but the general obligation bond wasn’t signed until Austin Peay State University agreed to be the main tenant for its men’s and women’s basketball programs and the Nashville Predators agreed to manage the arena.

The goal was to develop an entertainment district in downtown Clarksville as an alternative to driving to Nashville, said current Montgomery County Mayor Wes Golden. 

“We want to keep more people here,” Golden explained. “There are so many opportunities. The local businesses that have been here for a long time have invested in this community and for me, this is their reward. It’s crazy to go downtown now and see families walking around with hockey sticks.” 

Future plans include hosting Predators events. “It’s already changed what we do,” said Sean Henry, president and CEO of the Nashville Predators and Sabertooth Sports & Entertainment. “We’re going to plant the gold flag of Smashville a little further out.” 

The Predators have been the primary tenant in the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville since 1998. The 17,000-cap venue is owned by the Sports Authority of Nashville and Davidson County and is operated by Powers Management Company, which is a subsidiary of Nashville Predators. 

In addition to Clarksville, SS&E has two other Ford Ice Centers near Nashville including Antioch, which opened in 2014 and Bellevue, which opened in 2019. Bellevue is also the location of the Lee Company Dek Hockey Rink for outdoor, inline skating. New rink projects are in development in nearby Sumner and Williamson counties.

“The Ford Ice Centers came about because there was nowhere to play hockey in Tennessee,” said Danny Butler, senior vice president at Sabertooth Sports & Entertainment. “We knew it was something that we had to do to truly let people play. It didn’t start as a marketing plan. It was about providing a place for kids to play hockey and for figure skating.” 

A million people pass through the doors each year. The rinks offer one of the Top 5 largest learn to skate programs in the country and an adult hockey league that has more than 1,600 active members. It is estimated that Nashville Predators youth hockey has grown youth hockey in Tennessee by more than 35 percent. The Predators operate 90 percent of the programs in the ice centers. 

“I don’t know that we ever knew they were going to be as busy as they are or what it’s lead to from a team standpoint, but it’s been fun to see,” Butler said.

Butler sees an audience in Clarksville, which has 170,000 residents and neighboring Fort Campbell U.S. Air Installation (101st Airborne Division, Air Assault), is home to 27,000 soldiers and 51,000 family members. 

F&M Bank Arena main arena bowl has an available ice surface, which provides the ability to host hockey tournaments and attract larger on-ice events or competitions. Combined with Ford Ice Center Clarksville, the Predators will offer a variety of learn-to-skate programs continuing their mission of expanding interest and participation in hockey in Middle Tennessee.