The deadline for cities to apply for MLS expansion has come and gone, and twelve ownership groups have stepped forward with the intent of becoming one of the four newest teams in MLS. One of the twelve cities to submit an application was none other than The Music City of Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville boasts a fantastic ownership group, backing from the local and state government, loads of tourism, and great scenery to be a poster child for an MLS expansion site.
MLS Expansion Profile: Nashville
Ownership Group and Stadium Plan
The Nashville MLS Organizing Committee boasts some big names involved in Nashville, a list that includes Nashville mayor Megan Barry. A few of the other names are as follows: John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries; Bill Hagerty, ex-commissioner of Economic Development for Tennessee; and Will Alexander. Another name lending a hand in the expansion process is David Dill, co-owner of a local investor group by the name of DMD Soccer. DMD Soccer was recently successful in their expansion application for a USL franchise, Nashville SC. To round out the impressive list there is Hans Hobson, the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Soccer Association.
The ownership group doesn’t just have experience in the world of business and soccer, but they also have billions of dollars to fund their expansion efforts. John Ingram is the son of well-known philanthropist Martha Ingram. The Ingram family has an estimated net worth of roughly $3 billion, making them the richest family in the state of Tennessee. A good plan and process starts the dream, but money like that can make the dream become a reality.
Upon announcing their bid for expansion, both mayor Barry and the ownership group stated that they would be placing the stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds. The Nashville Fairgrounds will also be the home location for the USL expansion franchise, Nashville SC, starting in 2018.
Current Soccer Landscape
Nashville has a healthy, and growing, love for the sport of soccer. When speaking with Hans Hobson he stated that there was 17,207 registered youth soccer players in the Middle District (includes Nashville) of Tennessee and a total of about 32,000 within a 45 minute drive of the city in 2015-16. Those are the biggest registration numbers in the state of Tennessee. That’s a very healthy number for a city of approximately 680,000 people. This number is reported to be growing for the upcoming years as well. The Middle District has grown nicely since 2012-13 when it had 15,578 registered youth players. An increase of almost 2,000 youth players in three years is quite impressive.
On top of having a steady growth in interest in youth registration, there are multiple other levels of soccer in Nashville. These include a team in the USL starting in 2018, NPSL, and NCAA programs. Just to name a few, there is Nashville SC (USL), Inter Nashville FC (NPSL), Vanderbilt University (NCAA D1), Lipscomb University (NCAA D1), Belmont University (NCAA D1), multiple other D2 and D3 NCAA programs, and some prominent youth clubs as well, such as Nashville FC and Nashville Youth soccer.
On top of being a growing hotbed for American soccer, the city certainly has the capacity to hold thousands of fans during match days. Nashville was recently selected as one of the 13 host cities for the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, making it very clear that the United States Soccer Federation views the city as a suitable one for big events to be held in. Nashville is also a regular host to U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Team matches, with all of them currently being held at Nissan Stadium, the stadium of the Tennessee Titans.
Other Contributing Factors
Not only is Nashville an ideal site for being home for a new MLS club, but it also boasts the fact that it’s one of the best cities to visit in the country. Travel and Leisure ranked Nashville as the fifth best city to visit in the United States. This shows that fans could travel there and not only watch MLS soccer, but have a truly fantastic experience in a city filled with history and a great atmosphere.
Another very strong contributing factor is the fact that Nashville already plays home city to professional sports organizations in the NHL (Nashville Predators), NFL (Tennessee Titans), Minor League Baseball (Nashville Sounds – Triple A baseball), USL (Nashville FC), and the Professional Indoor Football League (Nashville Venom). The attendance for the two biggest, the Titans and Predators, is consistently impressive. When you take into account that Nashville wasn’t considered a smart choice for an NHL expansion site, and the fact that they consistently sell out, it makes a strong case for an MLS club to be there and do exactly the same.
All of those contributing factors make for a strong case, but one of the strongest may just be the legislation that has been proposed by Tennessee state senator Steve Dickerson. Dickerson has proposed a bill in the state legislature that would allocate state sales tax revenue generated from a future professional soccer stadium in Nashville to Metro government. This would include sales tax revenue from admissions to games as well as concessions, parking, and other charges on the premises of the stadium. This was first reported by The Tennessean, and would be a massive factor in Nashville being approved as an expansion site for an MLS club.
It’s hard to tell where Nashville currently sits among some of the higher up cities like Detroit and Sacramento. When you take into account the deep pockets of the ownership group, the established culture in U.S. Soccer, the atmosphere of the city, and the aforementioned contributing factors, it’s easy to say that Nashville has a real possibility of being approved as one of the expansion sites. It will remain to be seen if MLS commissioner Don Garber and the expansion committee will see this as enough though, and only time will tell.