Investor John Ingram told Nashville’s metro council on Monday afternoon that when he launched his MLS expansion bid in January, the league was “courteous….but not very encouraging.”
After all, Ingram entered the league’s expansion race relatively late, and as a media market, Nashville was larger than only two of its 11 competitors. “I think it’s fair to say we’re an underdog,” he told SI.com at the time. “But I think we’ll have a really solid application … I think we’re going to make a real effort that’s going to have to be considered.”
Nashville now has moved well beyond being considered. After unveiling its stadium location and financing plan Monday—and considering what’s happening (or not happening) elsewhere— Music City appears to be among the favorites to become an MLS city when the league announces its next two expansion sites in December. Only the Sacramento Republic’s bid is further along in fulfilling the league’s requirements, and they’ve been at it for nearly four years.
Ingram, his colleagues and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry unveiled a plan calling for a 27,500-seat stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville site located a couple miles south of downtown. Under the proposal, the $250 million project will be 90% financed by Ingram’s group ($25 million) and revenue and taxes generated by the stadium ($200 million). The government will provide the land and an additional $25 million to cover some infrastructure costs. Construction overruns will be the club’s responsibility, as will the MLS expansion fee and costs associated with the team’s launch.
Barry is fully on board. “This is a tremendous benefit to our city and the community of Nashville,” she said at Monday’s meeting. “I think we are absolutely ready for this.”
Now the council, the board that controls the Fairgrounds site and the local sports authority must adopt their own resolutions in order to turn the proposal into reality. Ingram and his group, which includes the Wilf family that owns the Minnesota Vikings and bid unsuccessfully for an MLS expansion team in the Twin Cities, are confident the deal will be finalized before the league’s board of governors meets and votes in December.
If approved, the stadium will be ready for the 2021 MLS season. The league intends to admit two new clubs in 2020, meaning a Nashville team will spend one year in a temporary facility. The Titans’ Nissan Stadium, Vanderbilt Stadium and First Tennessee Park, the baseball stadium that’s also home to Nashville SC, all are obvious possibilities. NSC will begin play in the USL next season under coach Gary Smith, who managed the Colorado Rapids to the 2010 MLS Cup championship.
Nashville has covered a lot of ground, and it has done so quickly. Two of the heavy favorites when bids were submitted in January—St. Louis and San Diego—appear to be out of the running for teams No. 25 and 26. It’s unclear whether bids in Phoenix, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Raleigh have the necessary financial backing, while an ambitious stadium plan in downtown Detroit seems to have been caught up in political red tape. Cincinnati and San Antonio still have work to do on the stadium front and, interestingly, are the two bidding markets smaller than Nashville.
Ingram lamented that an unsourced report earlier Monday claiming that Nashville already had been awarded a team was false.
“As much as I wish it were true …. We have a process and a big part of it is being here today,” he said. “Over the course of the last 8 1/2 months, we have worked hard. We’ve done what we’ve needed to do. Other cities have failed at moments like this and in other ways, and I feel very strongly that if we can come to an agreement on a stadium proposal, then we have a very good chance of being selected in December.”
He’s right. Absent a significant turn of events in a significantly larger market over the next few months, Nashville has come from behind to lay claim to a strong position in the MLS expansion sweepstakes.