The Nashville MLS expansion bid received a boost this weekend following the first visit of league commissioner Don Garber. Nashville is one of 12 cities fighting for four expansion slots and it’s chances of success look to be on the up.
Garber admitted that the MLS front office was surprised when it received an expansion bid from Music City back in December. But after seeing a “committed ownership group”, who are hopeful of securing a public-private stadium financing plan later this year, Tennessee might just be getting a Major League Soccer team.
“Nashville is very much like Major League Soccer: It’s a city on the rise,” Garber said during Friday’s visit.
“When we think about expansion in North America, there’s an incredible energy here. There’s the strength of the entertainment and music business and there’s a great public-private approach to getting things done. That character of the city is very much about our league.”
The MLS commissioner toured Nashville on Friday and will be at Nissan Stadium on Saturday, where the USA face Panama in the Gold Cup.
Nissan Stadium is the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, but Nashville’s potential MLS team would need to have its own stadium. Garber reiterated that any expansion side needs to secure a soccer-specific stadium site to enter MLS.
“If a very promising market can’t have a stadium, they’re not going to be an MLS expansion team. If Nashville’s able to achieve that, it’s going to be a very positive aspect for their bid.
“When we founded the league, soccer stadiums were not part of the original plan. The plan was to play in NFL stadiums. Now, we realise there’s no reason to go into a market until you get that locked up.”
Nashville mayor Megan Barry is well behind the push to bring soccer to the city. While MLS bidder John Ingram, who has teamed up with businessman Bill Hagerty, is doing all he can to secure an expansion slot.
They hope to have a funding package for an MLS stadium in the next few months. While Ingram recently bought controlling rights to Nashville Soccer Club. Nashville SC will enter the USL in 2018 and would become an MLS club if a franchise is awarded to the city.
Nashville SC is run by former MLS executive Court Jeske. While the team will be coached by Englishman Gary Smith, who famously won the 2010 MLS Cup with Colorado. Smith remains the only English coach to ever win MLS Cup.
Nashville, San Antonio, San Diego, Sacramento, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Raleigh, Charlotte, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, Phoenix and Indianapolis are the 12 cities battling for four MLS expansion slots.
Garber is expected to announce the league’s 25th and 26th teams at the end of the year. Several cities are struggling with stadium deals, but Garber doesn’t expect that to delay any decisions.
“We are very confident we’ll have two that we’ll be deciding on,” he said.