Friday, July 04, 2014

Would it kill the Nashville Sounds to add some pride of place to their new scoreboard?

The Nashville Sounds introduced then new guitar-shaped scoreboard last week with the statement, "We listen to our fans. Keeping the beloved guitar-shaped scoreboard is just part of our commitment to our supporters and to the city of Nashville."

Apparently, they don't listen to the same fans that they relied on before getting council approval for a new ballpark. In the run-up to the council vote, the team's ownership, the Mayor's Office and the design team rarely mentioned the ballpark without the name "Sulphur Dell". "Friends of Sulphur Dell" was their social media echo chamber. When the Sounds encouraged people to lobby the council for the ballpark they announced: "Come Support the Sulphur Dell Ballpark!" and used the name to rationalize the North Capitol area as the best place for baseball.

Once they received council approval, the partners in the project rarely mentioned "Sulphur Dell" again. The Friends of Sulphur Dell page fell silent immediately after the naming rights to First Tennessee were announced, which suggests to me that few in their group were interested in fighting for the historic name. Team owners have since refused to put "Sulphur Dell" anywhere close to "First Tennessee."

So I did some tinkering with the Sounds new scoreboard to see whether adding the statement "at Historic Sulphur Dell" would be that much of a drag on the First Tennessee brand:

I made an unobtrusive addition to the Sounds' planned scoreboard.

Bringing the name of the location of the ballpark below the neck of the guitar in smaller letters does nothing to take away from the primary name "First Tennessee Park". It is clearly below and thus secondary to the bank's brand. It even makes the box score board look aesthetically more balanced. This risk of adding "at Historic Sulphur Dell" to the guitar in this way risks nothing as far as I can see.

As of 07/04/2014
Meanwhile, there are a couple of benefits to adding the geographical referent. The Sounds and the Mayor's Office created popular expectations that the new ballpark would be an extension of the historic home of baseball in Nashville. The project signs currently up at the construction site still say "Sulphur Dell". A lot of people supported a new ballpark because they believe in the idea of Sulphur Dell. Including that historic moniker on the new scoreboard is a way of keeping promises that were implicitly made. It would be at best bad faith and at worst an encouragement to forget (or to never learn) for Sounds owners to exclude "at Historic Sulphur Dell."

The other benefit that I see to keeping Sulphur Dell visible in the branding of the new ballpark comes from F. Kaid Benfield, who says that people gravitate to older places because they feel grounded by them. Benfield argues that a continuity that people see in historic places gives them a sense of well-being and connectedness. We no longer have the object of old Sulphur Dell. That ballpark was torn down long ago. But adding the name as a geographical referent reminds Nashville that baseball has been played there for a long time. Hence, the name represents an arc of time into which people can be rooted in the present. Downplaying the Sulphur Dell name is akin to downplaying the sense of place and time Nashvillians (and particularly North Nashvillians) have in reference to our historic national pastime.

I understand that a lot of people are invested in a guitar-shaped scoreboard precisely for this reason: that it provides continuity with their past experiences of Greer Stadium. In my opinion, including Historic Sulphur Dell to the scoreboard is just as important and vital as the shape of the scoreboard is. We should keep in mind that Sulphur Dell existed long before Greer Stadium did.

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