Nashville SC will play in a baseball stadium Saturday, but it’s an experience they’ll acclimate to very quickly: their lone home game to date (and the vast majority of home games this season) will be played at First Tennessee Park, home to the AAA Nashville Sounds.
Of course, the regular-season home opener and the July 7 Cincinnati game will be in Nissan Stadium (Buy your tickets for the opener!), so we won’t experience the friendly confines again until April 7 against Charlotte Independence. However, with Louisville Slugger Stadium coming up, what are the things to know about soccer in a baseball stadium.
Anyone who watched Nashville SC’s opening friendly against Atlanta United knows that the temporary turf placed over the infield in baseball stadia can be risky. Especially when there are adverse weather conditions, turf that is meant to be removed at game’s end can play differently.
A backpass that stops dead in a puddle is something we’ve already seen (leading to an Atlanta United goal). We haven’t seen players tripping over seams in the sod, balls taking a funny bounce on those seams, or the full range of different properties that can have.
We’ll see them by the end of the Summer, though.
Fortunately, the viewing angles in First Tennessee Park appeared to be pretty good: no obstructed views, the farthest distance of any viewing area on the field is reserved for the away supporters, and there are some nice intimate-to-the-pitch seats. There aren’t a ton of negatives from the viewer’s perspective.
There is at least one though (as pointed out on Twitter by Ken Hirt): the netting to prevent foul balls from hitting fans during baseball games was left up for soccer, unnecessarily putting a bit of a visual barrier (in both a literal and symbolic sense) between fans in sections 111-115 (and maybe others – I didn’t even notice since it didn’t affect me). Hopefully, that oversight is corrected for future home games.
A highly positive part of the seating arrangement? The primary supporters’ groups, The Roadies and The Assembly, are right off the field, right behind one of the goals. They’ll have a good opportunity to set the tone for the atmosphere during games.
One aspect that didn’t come to light against Atlanta was the dynamic of stands that are designed to watch an entirely sport. There may have been one corner kick in the near-right position (where the right field foul pole would be for baseball) during that game, but I can’t recall.
I did notice that there’s not a lot of clearance there. Watching the USL Championship Game in November, there’s even less at Louisville Slugger Stadium. There won’t be the opportunity to run-up to corner kicks with the flag touching the outfield wall in the event of a breeze.
For second-division teams (both of whom have stadium plans in the works to varying degrees, NSC’s obviously contingent on the MLS move), it’s not ideal, but not that enormous a worry.
Nashville SC won’t be setting any attendance records in First Tennessee Park. A sellout crowd of fewer than 10,000 took in the Atlanta game. The reality of playing in a minor league baseball stadium necessarily inhibits the ability to draw enormous crowds.
That’s a big part of the reason two games have been moved to Nissan Stadium. The club will be able to compete for “debut game” attendance records against Pittsburgh in just over a week, and the USL record for attendance (30,187) against FC Cincinnati – current holders of that record, and happy to pass it off, if only temporarily – July 7.
As a temporary solution, there’s not much wrong with First Tennessee Park. Its size will limit fans’ exposure for the next couple years (with the tradeoff of potentially making NSC a hot ticket), and playing on a baseball field has its own drawbacks.
With a new stadium and new league in the future, though, it’s full speed ahead. Against Louisville City this weekend… at least the Boys in Gold will be a little more familiar with the ups and downs before the game kicks off.