Even in January the statement, “An MLS team is coming to Nashville,” seemed unlikely to be uttered by anyone. This December, the MLS plans to continue their expansion by adding two new teams to the league. However, recent developments in both Nashville and competing cities across the country mean that Nashville will be tapped for one of those two coveted franchises, as Nashville has caught the attention of the MLS office.
The “MLS2Nashville” group met at MBA to discuss the progress of the MLS bid from Nashville so far and the future of the proposal. With the members of the committee, MBA faculty, and students in attendance, the committee announced that it would need to submit the stadium plans to the City Council by one of the two October meetings in order to meet the December date when the MLS choses the expansion teams, and that was the last step in bringing the team to Nashville. The committee urged everyone in attendance to rally support for the team and the passage of the stadium plan.
The MLS has a few prerequisites that Nashville must meet in order to host a franchise. The first is a strong ownership group, which Nashville feels that it has as meetings have progressed The second is a strong market for soccer, which Nashville definitely has with the quick expansion of the Nashville soccer club, as well as the attendance level to the Gold Cup game played in Nashville in July, which the MLS offices were specifically impressed with.
There has been mixed response to the plans for an MLS team in Nashville. MBA alum John Ingram has led the charge in bringing the team to Nashville and has been a key investor. Sophomore McGavock Cooper said in reference to the chance of being an MLS team to Nashville, “After seeing how Nashvillians came out to support the Predators, I think a MLS team would be good for city spirit. However, I don’t think that the city should pay for the stadium.” McGavock shares the opinion of many Nashvillians, which is the desire to have a team, and re-experience what was created with the Predators, but do not want the city to bear the financial burden. Junior William Davis when asked about the prospects of a MLS team coming to Nashville said, “MLS has no place in Nashville.” Some like Davis believe that the MLS will only take away from other sports and not have consistent support.
It is understandable that the committee desires to rally support for the bid. While many real soccer fans are excited to finally have a major league team, much opposition has come to the stadium. Both the site, which would sit on the current fairgrounds, and the funding by the city have drawn public backlash. Yet the support stems from a desire to replicate the magic that was produced during the NHL playoffs, which brought the city together. However, more support might possibly stem from the economic opportunity presented by having a team. A sports team has proved to be a great return on investment for cities bringing in fans to the area, and a venue for other events.
The real concern with Nashville for the MLS is having a stadium whose primary purpose is the soccer. The committee has hired international renown HOK Architecture,which has completed past projects like Mercedes-Benz Stadium and the upgrades to Hard Rock Field, but who has little experience with MLS soccer. Current renderings have been based on a project, where Vanderbilt would participate in the funding and plays their home football games there. However, Vanderbilt has not yet committed to being in on the project. (Update: Vanderbilt announced after deadline they would not move from the current home stadium on campus) There are also concerns about the location of the stadium as it would take much of the current fairgrounds area away and be disruptive to local neighborhoods. All of these uncertainties create the greatest obstacle in the way of Nashville acquiring a team.
It appears as if Sacramento has all but locked up one of the two franchise set to be handed down in December, but the Nashville is very much in contention for the second spot, along with bids from Detroit and Cincinnati. While both of them are positioned well, Nashville still lacks a clear solution to the MLS stadium issue. They have a growing market, and population and economic growth rates that are both steadily increasing. The MLS offices are greatly interested in Nashville and have repeatedly said so in meetings with Nashville officials, but that the only obstacles that are preventing them from picking Nashville is the stadium situation.