Nashville SC to Begin USL Play With MLS Dreams

First Tennessee Park Nashville SC rendering

Newly minted franchise Nashville SC is set to kick off its inaugural season in the United Soccer League in 2018.

The hope in Nashville is that its first season in USL will also be one of its last.

The club will hope to be playing in the MLS as soon as 2020. A strong ownership group led by John Ingram, and backed by the Wilf family, has submitted a bid for an expansion franchise in the next round.

A $250 million, 27,500-seat soccer-specific stadium plan for The Fairgrounds Nashville site has been proposed in support of the MLS bid, which was approved by the local Sports Authority and is scheduled for Nashville Metro Council consideration on November 7th.

Nashville has emerged as a frontrunner for the coveted MLS franchise even though it has no history of professional soccer. The strong ownership group and proposed stadium is most significant, but so is the city’s recent record of drawing fans to soccer. Just this summer, the month of July was bookended by record soccer crowds for the state – over 47,000 fans at Nissan Stadium for a CONCACAF Gold Cup game between the U.S. and Panama, and more than 56,000 for an International Champions Cup exhibition between Tottenham and Manchester City.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was in Nashville for the Gold Cup game, and has praised the Nashville bid. “Cincinnati and Nashville, and Sacramento and Detroit — just to name four where we’ve been to recently. Man, the energy there is off the charts,” Garber said. It is also thought that because the only major professional sports teams in Nashville are the Titans and Predators, both with Fall/Winter seasons, the summer is wide open for professional soccer.

In the meantime, Nashville SC is scheduled to play its inaugural season in the USL, and will play its home games at First Tennessee Park, home of baseball’s Nashville Sounds (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League). The 10,000-seat venue was opened in 2015 and designed by Populous.

First Tennessee Park is perhaps most well-known for its guitar-shaped scoreboard, an homage to the scoreboard at the former Greer Stadium, home of the Sounds from 1978-2014. The new Guitar scoreboard features a 4,200-square-foot LED screen. It is just one of the design elements highlighting the city’s baseball history – the site was once known as Sulphur Dell and its baseball linage dates back to 1870 – as well as its connection to the music industry.

The ballpark is also known for its green architecture, and for being flood-proof. Located on a flood plain, it was built to withstand a 100-year flood. To prevent water damage, the grandstand has an acrylic floor covering and the field-level suites are equipped with detachable floor boards, and raised floor outlets and electrical switches in case of flood. The area was flooded as recently as 2010.

For Nashville SC games, the baseball field will be converted to a soccer pitch, with one side of the field along the first base line and the other running through left-center field. One goal will be located in front of the third base dugout, and the other near the right-center field wall. The pitcher’s mound will be removed, and the infield dirt and portions of the warning track will be sodded over.

The baseball to soccer stadium model is one which is becoming increasingly popular in the minor leagues. Tulsa, Harrisburg, Reno, and Louisville have been among the cities with baseball facilities being used for soccer this season, with both Fresno and Las Vegas making similar plans for 2018.

In Nashville, excitement for the new team is strong and growing. “There is a tremendous amount of local excitement for soccer, and I’m happy to see support continuing to build for our professional club, Nashville SC…,” said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. “I look forward to wearing the colors and cheering on Nashville SC as they make their mark in the community.”

Mayor Barry and the ownership group have also reportedly discussed the possibility of eventually bringing women’s professional soccer to Nashville, possibly in the form of an NWSL team paired with a future MLS side. “A Major League Soccer franchise represents an incredible opportunity for Nashville to continue its growth and take its place on the global stage,” Barry said.

Season tickets for Nashville SCs inaugural season are scheduled to go on general sale next week, although the club announced that an impressive one third of those tickets had already been sold on presale. There is little doubt that the team will be well supported, as Nashville has proven to be a hot market for soccer. The city will be behind the team, be it in USL or MLS.

MLS is scheduled to announce the first two expansion franchises in December, with two more expected next year. Nashville SC fans, and the people of Nashville, will be watching closely.

This article first appeared in the weekly Soccer Stadium Digest newsletter. Are you a subscriber? Sign up here for your free subscription!

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August Publications