All signs point to Nashville, Tennessee as the next MLS expansion city. MLS commissioner Don Garber will be in town on Wednesday for “an announcement”, which can only mean the city is destined for admission into MLS.
The Music City was considered a dark horse early in the expansion race, but a combination of a cooperative local government working to formulate a stadium plan and the addition of wealthy investors helped propel them to the front of the line and, eventually, into the league.
The number one thing MLS claims to look for in an expansion effort is a solid plan to build a soccer specific stadium, preferably in a downtown area. Nashville has exactly that with their fully approved stadium on the Nashville Fairgrounds.
Early last month, the city council approved $275 million in public funding towards the construction of a new stadium. The plan had the full backing of mayor Megan Barry, who will be present at Wednesday’s event. While there were some hurdles left to clear, mainly a since-dismissed lawsuit over the use of the site, everything looked clear for Nashville to start constructing their stadium any day.
The other factor helping the city is the backing of some very wealthy people. The principal investor in the expansion group is John Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries, among other corporate interests. The real financial clout, however, comes from The Wilf family, owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
MLS loves its filthy rich investors, and Nashville has a pair of those.
Beyond that, the league saw strong support for international soccer matches in the area over the past couple years. More than 47,000 fans came out to see the U.S. Men’s National Team in the Gold Cup this summer and more than 56,000 watched Tottenham and Manchester City play each other in a preseason friendly in August.
One thing MLS clearly doesn’t care about is a history or professional soccer success. Nashville was one of two markets out of the 12 that applied to not have a professional club active in the city. A handful of amateur clubs have competed in the area over the years, but none set the world on fire or stuck around for very long. The city is launching a USL franchise next spring, though.
Market size also didn’t play much of a factor. Nashville is the 27th largest television market in the country with just over one million households. Sacramento (20th) and Detroit (14th) are both larger among the finalists.
But the expansion committee didn’t seem to care about those negatives. They saw a publicly-financed stadium and a couple of rich businessmen and decided to vote Nashville as the next expansion city.