Nashville announced as MLS expansion finalist

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Cincinnati, Detroit, and Sacramento are the other three cities.

The steps toward a final decision on Nashville’s (immediate) MLS future are now far more clear: Music City is joined by Cincinnati, Detroit, and Sacramento in the final four – pared down from 12 bids – with presentations to the league Dec. 6, a week from today, and a vote the following Thursday (Dec. 14). The result will be announced publicly by year’s end.

I’ve made no claims to be unbiased – I want Nashville to get one of the teams, no questions asked. Sacramento has and still does feel like a holy lock, which leaves three contenders for one remaining slot, barring a major surprise from MLS. Let’s evaluate the three bids on the basis of the important criteria.

Cincinnati

Ownership: Massive group that includes Carl H. Lindner (owner of American Financial Group), Jeff Berding (former Bengals exec and Cincinnati City Councilman), David L. Thompson (VP of Great American Insurance Company), Scott Farmer (CEO of Cintas), Steve Hightower (Hightowers Petroleum founder and owner), Jack Wyant (venture capitalist and sports investor).

This certainly checks the boxes for investment cash and local ties (as far as I can tell, all owners live locally). There is limited sports background – which is important to the league – though Wyant invests in the Reds, and another owner Mike Mossel, is also an investor in multiple lower-division teams.

Market: By far the smallest of the bunch: No. 35 in the country, with 871,970 households. There is a potential growth opportunity outside of the actual market itself: if MLS lets Evil FailSon Anthony Precourt moves the Crew to Austin, FC Cincinnati could be considered the go-to team for all of Ohio, which would open up a much larger market. FC Cincinnati is also well-attended as a USL team.

Stadium: This is the area where Cincinnati is pretty far behind. They have some agreements to improve infrastructure from the city in a neighborhood whose community council voted against welcoming the stadium. They’re also maintaining that they will explore other locations… clearly, they’re well behind other options here.

Detroit

Further disclaimer: this is my hometown and I will almost certainly be back in the area by the time 2019 rolls around. I still support the Nashville bid over Detroit’s.

Ownership: Large group including Dan Gilbert (owner of Quicken Loans, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and seemingly half of the property in the city of Detroit), Tom Gores (owner of Platinum Equity investment firm and the Detroit Pistons), and the Ford family (owners of some NFL team of no repute and an enormous automotive company).

This is the best ownership group: it is going to have pockets much, much deeper then the other two contenders, and the three major stakeholders are already deeply involved in owning professional sports franchises. Gores is not local to Detroit – he’s an expat living in Southern California – but Gilbert and the Fords remain in the area.

Market: This is the largest market at No. 14 in the country – 1,779,380 households – and while the city itself is branded “up and coming” because it was very much not in a good place just a few years ago, the suburbs are extremely wealthy, and disposable income is a positive in the MLS’s eyes. This market has handful of amateur and semi-pro teams (a blessing and a curse because there is no ready on Detroit City FC’s fanbase other than “this group of people will actively discourage us from granting them a pro team”).

Stadium: Here is where Detroit’s bid falls apart quickly. The ham-handedness with which the City Council is handling the infamous Kwame Kilpatrick Fail Jail site has probably doomed Detroit’s bid. Instead, there’s a move to start in the Detroit Lions’ Ford Field. While it would actually be a pretty solid venue for soccer (in my own estimation – among existing stadia in the three cities, pretty much all of which I’ve been to, its the best), no soccer-specific stadium is a no-no. It seems more likely that Detroit fortifies its bid and hammers out this “we are trying to fix an eyesore in your urban core at no cost to you” situation for the next expansion round.

Nashville

Ownership: Large group including John Ingram (CEO of Ingram Industries and various affiliated companies), David Dill, Marcus Whiteney, and Chris Redhage (presidents of various healthcare-related things – you know, Nashville guys), and the Wilf family (real estate moguls and owners of the Minnesota Vikings).

This group blends dude who are just filthy stinkin’ rich with some who have sports ownership experience – including Nashville SC’s current incarnation as a USL squad with a 2018 inaugural – and local with non-local. The non-local Wilfs have connections to the area through Vanderbilt, and bring the major sports ownership through the Vikings.

Market: Nashville is between Detroit and Cincinnati in market size: No. 27 nationally with 1,030,650 households. Like Cincinnati, there’s a reasonable argument that the media market itself is less important than the region that will call Nashville SC its home team, which would include much of Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas, along with other surrounding states. Not exactly the highest disposable income cohort, but a bigger group of potential soccer fans nonetheless. Nashville has the least established soccer culture of the three, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and we’ve seen the Predators blend local flavor and hockey tradition to create a culture all their own.

Stadium: I’ve covered this ad nauseam already (through like two weeks of blogging). It’s head-and-shoulders the best of the competing trio. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that with only a week to go before the Board of Governors meeting, it’s the only stadium proposal that is not disqualifying for its city’s bid. That’s obviously, like, important.

The verdict

Obviously – and again, there’s admitted bias here – Nashville is the city that best checks all three boxes, and is indeed the only one that satisfactorily answers the stadium question as things stand today. Cincinnati could make up ground in a hurry, but would definitely have to do so – especially figuring out this snafu between the city and the community of Oakley, because an alternate site can’t get hammered out that quickly.

We’re just a week away from hearing (leaks of) the news, and unless MLS wants to throw the Buckeye State a bone in exchange for screwing it over in the very near future, Nashville is lookin’ good.

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