Friday, July 22, 2011

Could Nashville Support the MLS?

Major League Soccer in Nashville?
Is Nashville ripe ground for a Major League Soccer team? We've certainly seen good crowds come to LP Field for the Team USA friendlies in recent years. Some 20,000 attended the most recent one at the same time the Predators played to a sold-out crowd at Bridgestone Arena.

While you may say, "Soccer?!?", I say that Nashville has an increasingly diverse population and a large (and rapidly growing) percentage of immigrants from countries where fĂștbol is king. And, of course, there's the old standby reasoning: kids play soccer and it's on the cusp of being the next big thing (which people have been saying since the 70s).

Overhead for an MLS team is rather low. Currently only 6 players in the league command a salary of $1 million or more, but 3 of those (Thierry Henry, David Beckham, and Rafael Marquez) are over $4 million, and the market for Henry and Marquez was no doubt driven up by Beckham's exorbitant contract with the LA Galaxy a few years ago. The average player salary is around $140,000, and that's including those players above the million-dollar mark. You could stock an entire team for less than the Predators are paying Sergei Kostitsyn this year.

The big question is: Who would own the team and where would they play? The answer that would come to everyone's mind immediately is LP Field. Not gonna happen. The only way Nashville will get a MLS team in the immediate future would be if Bud Adams ponies up for the franchise. His old buddy, the late Lamar Hunt, was a charter MLS owner, but the old bird-flipping curmudgeon from Houston is pushing 90 years old now, and I don't see launching a new soccer franchise in Nashville as a high priority for him. And if Bud doesn't own the team, it's not going to play at LP Field. The owner would have to pay rent, no control over any off-field signage, and the Titans would keep the concession & parking money. Good luck with that.

(Ed.Note: J.R. Lind tweets me this: "Also worth noting: MLS would have to waive soccer-specific stadium req to play at LP Field. They've only done that once, for SEA [Seattle]. And Seattle pre-sold like 37K season tix")

It would take someone who would be willing to finance a privately-owned stadium (capacity 18,000-25,000), on land possibly donated by Metro for the cause. I wouldn't ask Metro for any cash right now...with the Music City Center stretching the town thin and Mayor Dean barely interested in getting a new stadium for the Sounds, the city probably wouldn't be willing to take the risk on soccer. But, if the Sounds end up getting a new ballpark downtown, Greer Stadium's current location (with a new building, of course) might be the perfect place to land. With the Predators having a rather large ownership group of local business leaders, I don't know if someone here in town would be available or willing to start such a venture. It might take somebody from the outside (let's hope it's not Craig Leipold) to make it happen.

Even with all that said and a lot of questions left to be answered, I believe within the next 5-10 years, Nashville will be home to a Major League Soccer franchise. Not quite yet...but soon.


  1. I'm not even a big soccer fan, but I could see this being a great fit for Nashville, particularly with the schedule being so different than that of the Titans and Preds.

    If LP Field wasn't a viable option, what about playing on Vanderbilt's football field? Is that feasible? Greer is a pretty lousy choice, location-wise.

  2. As JR pointed out, the MLS requires a soccer-specific stadium for each of its franchises. So, it's unlikely Vandy would be a viable option... plus, Vandy's field likely wouldn't allow for the dimensions of a soccer field. It's pretty tight for (American) football.

    The reason I proposed Greer is because Metro owns that land, and if there's no baseball stadium on it (as will likely be the case soon), what is Metro going to do with it? It would be a simple solution.

  3. I would be a first day season ticket holder to an MLS soccer team here. I played keeper in high school later on I coached college soccer and I was even an official for a handful of years. Plus, I think an MLS team could thrive here considering that Nashville is a HUGE hub for refugees from countries like Berma and Kurdestan (sp?). Soccer is the world's game and there's plenty of culture in the Music City melting pot to sustain a major league franchise. In my opinion anyway.

  4. I don't see it happening because the city will not be helpful. Finding an owner would be easy, but finding one that will privately finance a stadium (in this market that is too big a risk) will make it difficult.

  5. I tend to agree, but it's fun to think about.

  6. I second Jeremy. I would be a first day season ticket holder. I'm pretty impressed with the amount of adult soccer leagues in Nashville and Murfreesboro, and agree with everyone who noted the diversity of culture here. I think soccer in Nashville would be welcomed with open arms by most. I look forward to the day!