Get your kicks
on Route 66…in Nashville, Tennessee’s Nissan Stadium! And by kicks, I mean soccer kicks! I’ve loved international soccer since 1998 when I was just a wee little youth watching the World Cup. (Okay, okay, I’ll date myself…I was a teenager. There. Happy? Aging. Pfft.) But one thing I’ve never done is go to an international soccer game let alone a Nashville soccer game. I’ve only had one prior chance which didn’t work out. This time though it was on for the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup!
Sometimes, Nashville soccer seems almost like a foreign concept. In fact, to host large events, we import foreign teams. For this occasion, Nashville hosted Martinique, Nicaragua, Panama, and the USA. When am I ever going to see Martinique again? Perhaps never. I might be able to say that for all four teams (hey, travel can be costly!). However, for one hot July Saturday afternoon, I enjoyed four international teams matching wits and kick flips. I jumped with the crowd. I cheered. I gasped and groaned. I needed this. Nashville needed this.
All the excitement pushed me to wonder–could Nashville sustain a top level professional soccer team? The city seems to be trending that way for several reasons. After some thinking and the Gold Cup excitement, I’m convinced Music City USA will soon also be Soccer City USA.
Hockey and Football and…Nashville Soccer? Oh My!
Nashville has major teams in the NFL’s Tennessee Titans and NHL’s Nashville Predators. And let’s not forget to mention that Music City USA also has a minor league baseball affiliate in the Nashville Sounds and a major college football conference team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. Add to that the fact that ESPN proclaimed that Nashville had the craziest, most supportive atmosphere in the entire National Hockey League and you have a recipe for a new sports love…and franchise.
In the video above, you’ll hear the U-S-A chants from the crowd; and I didn’t capture numerous other chants. The Nashville chapter of the American Outlaws, a group devoted to supporting and cheering USA soccer around the world, started most of the chants. Nashville’s chapter’s strong presence showed and surely impressed watching CONCACAF, Major League Soccer (MLS), and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) representatives. Nashville soccer? The hunger is apparent.
Already Awarded United Soccer League Franchise
So it makes perfect sense that Nashville has already been awarded a new soccer franchise–Nashville SC in the United Soccer League (USL)! Of course, the owners of Nashville SC are rumored to already be negotiating with Major League Soccer for a league upgrade. Can you blame them? Look at the not-so-crazy amount of support at the USA-Panama Gold Cup game! The chants were loud and proud! U-S-A! U-S-A!
This major soccer enterprise was several years in the making by virtue of an original Nashville FC club which played in the fourth tier National Premier Soccer League from 2013-2016. Disbanded, the new Nashville SC is, at minimum, one step higher at the USL level (while Nashville was also awarded a replacement NPSL team).
Expect more of this activity as soccer’s beachhead in Nashville continues to solidify, bringing larger and larger games. If the United States secures the right to host another World Cup, Nashville has an excellent chance to be one of the host cities. Watch for explosive growth at that point; but you’ll see steady growth until that point as evidenced by the Gold Cup and the club progress in the city.
Growing Nashville Population
As of the writing of this blog, Nashville’s population in the major 13-county metro area is 1.8 million, and that figure is rapidly growing with approximately 100 new people moving to the area daily. (No wonder my rent keeps rising!!)
The secret is out about this city. Naturally, the rise in the number of people will bring a rise in the number of people interested in a given topic. And soccer is one that is better and better represented. In fact, one could say that soccer’s rise in Nashville is an inevitability, especially considering projections for growth in one particular population group–Hispanics.
Projected Hispanic Population
I’m actually quite jealous of Hispanic culture’s fervent love of soccer (or football as it’s known). It’s infectious, amazing, and far from the perspective of the majority of my friends. And it’s coming to Nashville steadily as the overall population grows! In fact, Hispanics are considered one of the fastest growing groups in Nashville.
At this point, you may be asking why Hispanic people are moving to Nashville. Two reasons in particular stand out–the low cost of living and a booming job market. Really, those two reasons lured all kinds of people. However, Hispanics are of special note as evidenced by the local newspaper, The Tennessean. One Tennessean article mentions that Hispanics represent 10% of the current population and could represent 33% in 20 years. Those are significant numbers that matter to Nashville’s culture…and Nashville soccer.
Proven Large Event Expertise
As Nashville’s population has grown, the city’s expertise in large event management has also grown. Currently, Nashville hosts major events during New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, and CMA Fest in addition to sports events and normal downtown tourism. The city seemingly knows these events well enough for only minor hiccups to happen. Large complexes like Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena, Ascend Amphitheater, and the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) support many of these happenings. However, if you’ve visited downtown Nashville recently, you likely saw the immense amount of construction ongoing. More tourism and residents begets more infrastructure. And believe me…tons more infrastructure is coming.
And guess what that includes? A proposed brand new soccer stadium! As recently as May 2017, The Tennessean reported that Nashville’s current mayor is exploring the Nashville Fairgrounds as a stadium location. Is Major League Soccer coming to Nashville? A new stadium sweetens the pot a little more!
The Desire To Be More Than Just Music City USA
Sometimes, I speak on instinct…gut feeling…intuition. And that’s this point. Music will always be the foundational characteristic of Nashville. However, Nashville is blooming into more and has higher ambition that settling for merely music. Music culture is check-marked, but what are the other culture components?
Did you know that Nashville’s food scene is becoming a national hot spot? World class chefs are migrating to Music City for the fantastic scene at hand, and the Music City Food + Wine Festival is proof in bringing Andrew Zimmern and Marcus Samuelsson to mingle with local all-star chefs. Staples like Nashville hot chicken and the requisite meat and three restaurants underpin the culture. Meanwhile, food trucks float around the city tempting residents and visitors with foodie culture goodness. Food culture addition? Check.
Did you know that the downtown attendance for the Nashville Predators’ Stanley Cup appearance rivaled CMA Fest, an event that brings 250,000 people downtown across four days annually? I wasn’t kidding when I mentioned the support for the Predators earlier; the Nashville safety experts in the police and fire departments made traffic and crowd alterations as well as issued attendee guidance to ensure a great Stanley Cup series. Sports culture addition? Check.
So when I say Nashville aspires to more…well, I mean it. And the city’s leadership and tourism bureau push it. Is Nashville destined to become one of the premiere cultural centers of the United States? Is soccer culture the next focus? With music at the foundation and cultural growth elsewhere, I feel confident in answering, “Yes!” to both questions!
Gold Cup 2017…Nashville Soccer’s Great Start
Finally, just take a look at the above photo. I was privileged to participate in the largest soccer match attendance in Tennessee history. If Nashville wanted to impress elite soccer organizations, solid attendance at the Gold Cup was crucial. A record crowd engaged in all the action delivered a convincing argument for Nashville soccer’s future. And that future is looking very bright from where I’m sitting.
Is it in the cards? Is the ball bouncing in the right direction? What are your thoughts on soccer’s future in Nashville? I’d love to hear them; share them in the comments section below!
Until next time…toodles!