On July 31st, Manchester City beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 at Nissan Stadium in the closing match of the International Champions Cup. A few weeks earlier, the United States Men’s National team drew 1-1 with Panama in the group stage of the Gold Cup. Both matches broke records for attendance to a soccer match in the state of Tennessee, reaching a combined number of over 100,000 fans in attendance.
This summer, Nashville propelled itself forward in its attempt to have a bid granted for the upcoming MLS expansion in 2020.
Outside of the International Champions Cup and Gold Cup matches, Nashville continued to impress this summer. In early April, Nashville was flooded with Predators fans, some new, some old, who showed up on Broadway to voice their support for the Stanley Cup Contenders. Scenes from inside of Bridgestone Arena drew comparisons with the best sporting venues in the country. For a team to grow its fan base in Nashville the formula is simple; you have to win. It is very typical to attend a Vanderbilt football or Titans game and see that there are more fans for the opposition than for the Nashville team. The Predators shifted this trend drastically. If the Titans can follow in the Predator's footsteps by having even a .500 season, this does seem ridiculous to believe of course but who knows, Nashville will be in an even better position for another professional sports franchise
In January, Nashville was released as a candidate for expansion in the MLS. The league will undergo a two-team growth in 2020. Currently, twelve cities have been listed as candidates. However, the general consensus has narrowed the field down to four contenders with the fan base and financial backing capable of sustaining a team: Sacramento, Cincinnati, San Diego, and Nashville.
Backed by MBA grad John Ingram as well as other prominent Nashville figures such as Eddie George, the MLS bid is in good hands going forward. Ingram said of the turnout to the Manchester city vs. Tottenham match, “[The crowd size] is a large indication of the passion and the pent up demand for soccer in Nashville. It’s indicative that Nashville is a city that is ready for Professional Soccer.”
One reason to be excited about the prospect of soccer coming to Nashville is the sport’s growing popularity in the States. At both matches this summer, banners and posters lined the pitch. Messages at the Gold cup match featured some showing the support of fan clubs across the states from Phoenix to New Jersey. When a sport can make fans travel 2,500 to see the US play Panama, a country famous for a canal that lets people leave it faster, you know that it is up to something.
The largest market for football still remains overseas. With three leagues dominating the coverage: the Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga, Europe is, and will forever be, king. However, this domination does not exclude Americans from tapping into the fervor that surrounds the European game.
The greatest access to the super leagues in Europe comes through network deals. The NBC has, for the past four years, been drowning in viewership for their coverage of the premier league. While the NFL's viewership has plummeted, the Premier League's has steadily increased. Fox has made deals with both La Liga and the Bundesliga. By broadcasting the top tier games from these two leagues they have opened up an entirely new sector to what they offer as a channel and to what is available to American supporters.
This recent expansion in the broadcasting of European soccer means that people are no longer turning on the TV on Saturday morning to watch ESPN, but they are instead flipping down a few channels to see the Manchester Derby or to see Arsenal take on Spurs. The youthful presence that European Football has in the States cannot be overstated. By being relatively new, these leagues allow fans to choose a team to follow and a new culture to embrace. Fans become engulfed in the history, drama, and pursuit of the title that every team chases for in their respective leagues. Things like chants, touchline arguments, or flashy "Pogba-esque" haircuts that have become normal in Europe are new in the US. In a market where many consider the NFL to be the “no fun league,” the NBA to be too lopsided, and the MLB to be too tedious, European football has an opportunity to thrive.
Soccer is going to soon conquer the United States. No, it may not surpass the big three leagues in American sports, but it will be right beneath them, ready to pounce at whichever falls first. If Nashville is selected for expansion, the city would have a front row seat to soccer’s next leap forward in American sports.