During the Stanley Cup playoffs, the hockey world took notice of Nashville’s support for the Nashville Predators. When fans couldn’t get tickets to the game, they filled the streets of Lower Broadway, Walk of Fame Park and other locations downtown painting the town gold. Yes, Nashville embraced hockey. Watching and being a part of the Predators’ amazing journey this season, I wondered if what happened here could help Nashville’s quest for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion team.
Nashville is one of 12 cities on the list for four slots that the league plans to expand to take the league to 28 teams. Nashville joins Sacramento, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, San Antonio, Raleigh, Cincinnati, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, San Diego and Detroit.
I would think that the city of Nashville only helped their cause with the success of the Predators’ and a sport which people probably never thought would take in the Music City. One thing that helps Nashville is that there is no other professional sports teams that would compete with MLS in the bulk of the regular season. They would compete with the Predators in the first 1/3 of the season and then the Titans in the last 1/3. There is definitely a big gap where a team would get the support since the city does not have a Major League Baseball team. In fact, six of the 12 on the list would not have competition with baseball. They all have minor league teams but I don’t see that as real competition with professional soccer.
The United States national teams have done well with matches here. The four games between 2006 and 2015 averaged 31,998 fans, which was something that attracted CONCACAF Gold Cup to have matches in Nashville this summer. On July 8th, the United States will play Panama and Martinique will play Nicaragua. Also, more than 40,000 filled Nissan Stadium in October for a match between Mexico and New Zealand.
Even Nashville Mayor Megan Barry expressed her thoughts about how the Predators’ success should help the city’s bid.
“I have to tell you if you were an MLS official and you watched any fan participation for the Predators, I can’t believe you wouldn’t think this is a place that would be supportive of a soccer team.”
Most soccer experts list Nashville as 7th on their list of the 12 cities. One thing that might detract from Nashville is that the city is an unknown as far as a soccer fan base. Sure, the Predators had incredible support but would that translate to support for an MLS franchise? Unfortunately, I think cities with past professional soccer teams in the old NASL (St. Louis, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Detroit) seem to be sentimental favorites. Personally, I think I would mix it up if I were MLS officials. Maybe include two old favorites and two cities who have never had a team.
Nashville already has support from the local community to build a stadium for an MLS team. That is always a huge hurdle for a city to strengthen their position for an expansion team.
Here is my personal (non-soccer expert) ranking of the list of cities. The numbers indicate professional sports teams:
- Tampa Bay (3)
- Phoenix (4)
- San Diego (1) – Remember the Chargers have moved to LA
- Nashville (2)
- St. Louis (2)
- Charlotte (2)
- Cincinnati (2)
- San Antonio (1)
- Raleigh (1)
- Indianapolis (2)
- Sacramento (1)
- Detroit (4)
The Predators’ success certainly helped Nashville’s chances but is it enough to put them in the top four? Another factor in the process is Miami’s on/off bid for an MLS team. Who knows how that situation will work out? Miami could be the factor that bumps Nashville out. Of course, both Miami and Tampa had MLS franchises but lost them.
The next two expansion teams are planned to join the league in 2020. With the length of time between now and the next decision for the next two teams, you also wonder how long the Predators’ success this season will stay in the minds of those on the MLS expansion committee. But, the Music City will have several opportunities to show their support for soccer on their own with the upcoming Gold Cup games and other friendlies being hosted at Nissan Stadium.
Honky Tonkin and Corner Kicks in the Music City? It isn’t so far-fetched.