Nashville's MLS interests align as expansion bid head Ingram buys city's USL team
Nashville’s bid for an MLS expansion team has been one of the more reserved among the 12. It’s also backed by billions and now, increasingly, by a city and a soccer community in greater alignment.
On Tuesday, Mayor Megan Barry told the city’s local ESPN radio affiliate that “the next thing that’s going to happen in Nashville is going to be soccer … and we’re absolutely out there pushing to bring Major League Soccer to Nashville.” Then on Thursday, the city’s two primary soccer interests—MLS bidder John Ingram and USL expansion club Nashville SC—joined forces. Ingram’s purchase of a controlling interest in the team, which will begin play next year, “speaks volumes about the future of soccer in Nashville and helps Nashville SC grow while unifying soccer interests in our city,” according to former majority owner David Dill.
Nashville SC is run by former MLS executive Court Jeske and will be coached by Gary Smith, who led the Colorado Rapids to a surprising league championship in 2010. The club’s PDL (fourth tier) team will kick off on May 13.
The race for the four available MLS expansion slots is tight. For a city like Nashville, which is a younger major league market and at the center of a metro area that’s just the USA’s 36th most-populous, every little bit helps. Speaking to SI.com in January, Ingram acknowledged, “It’s fair to say we’re an underdog. We’re later to start this effort than some other cities.”
Ingram is the chairman of privately held Ingram Industries, which has interests in multiple fields, and is part of a very prominent Nashville family worth more than $4 billion, according to Forbes. That will appeal at MLS headquarters. Now, his purchase of Nashville SC provides a preemptive answer to another potential question. Everyone’s working together. The investor, the existing team (as of 2018) and the mayor are aligned. Barry is behind the exploration of the city’s Fairgrounds as a potential stadium site. The city’s MLS organizing committee includes Titans president and CEO Steve Underwood, Predators president and CEO Sean Henry, local private equity executive Bill Hagerty (the newly-appointed ambassador to Japan). And the CONCACAF Gold Cup is coming there in July.
Ingram claimed Thursday that “Music City is Soccer City.” True or not, he’s certainly putting money and influence where his slogan is.
Elsewhere in the expansion race, USL club Phoenix Rising has hired Goldman Sachs to arrange financing for the MLS stadium and soccer complex it intends to build on a 45-acre site just northeast of Arizona State University. “With Goldman Sachs, and our unique partnership with the Solanna Group and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, we are prepared to privately fund a world-class, soccer-specific stadium in Phoenix’s most desirable location,” Rising co-chairman Brett Johnson said … Through April, six of the seven second-division (NASL and USL) teams with the highest average attendances were in markets seeking an MLS club. FC Cincinnati led the way at 19,608, followed by Sacramento Republic at 11,569 and Indy Eleven at 8,094. Louisville City, the outlier, was fourth. Then came Miami FC, San Antonio FC and Phoenix Rising. The NASL’s Miami FC is the only aforementioned team that isn’t anchoring an MLS expansion bid. That city’s meandering effort is led, of course, by David Beckham … Alongside his triumph in Tuesday’s special election that gives him permission to spend $80 million on an MLS-worthy upgrade to Al Lang Stadium, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards announced a brief sabbatical while he has a pacemaker installed. Edwards, 71, said he expects a “full recovery and to be back in shape and fully charged quickly—ready and excited for the continued MLS expansion effort.”