Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre sat with the media today to discuss the successful first year (in-progress) on the field, and the future of the club off it. Watch or read his full comments here.
Club CEO Ian Ayre
“It’s been incredible really. I think we’ve been on this incredible journey in 2020, and I’ve said before it’s felt like every time we got up, we got knocked back down, but it feels like since we came back in the restart, we’ve really started to build both momentum and obviously some level of success, so to be undefeated at home since the restart and to continue to make huge progress on the stadium and lots of positives in a very difficult year.
“So, finding out last night watching those other games play out, that qualified us for the playoffs, was fantastic. Still a lot of work to do, you know: still have three games in the regular season that’ll determine where we play in the playoffs – whether we play in the play-in or whether we go straight to it, and it’s very much in our hands, particularly with the next two games against Chicago and Dallas. And then we’ll see where we are, but hugely proud of everybody on and off the field.
“We’ve steadily… we’ve not made the most noise, we’ve not made the biggest splash, we’ve not been perhaps the sexiest game in town every time. But we’ve methodically gone about our work on and off the field, and I think finally some people are starting to realize that we quietly got there, but we got there. We’re difficult to play against, difficult to break down, and we go into a very small group of teams that have qualified for playoffs in their first year. I think that’s a pretty impressive group to be part of when you look at who’s done that previously. I think in the last 22 years – I saw a stat – the four teams that have done it in that period all went on to win the competition in future years. So, good group to be around, great company to keep as they say, and hugely proud.”
When you look at how the roster was built, were you surprised how quickly it’s come together with a focus that was potentially for a year or more down the line?
“I think certainly when we started to discuss the roster and the recruitment, one of the things that was top of mind for us was: if you look historically, a lot of new teams, a lot of expansion teams concede a lot of goals, and so a defensive solid core was really a big part of our focus. As to how that would translate in terms of success, I think ‘success’ was always going to be hard to measure in this first year. I think I was asked that question right at the start, and probably Mike and Gary were as well.
“I know that my answer was something along the lines of, ‘what we want to do is make Nashville feel proud and our supporters feel proud.’ That we weren’t kind of cannon fodder, and we weren’t taken easily in games, if you like. As to being in the playoffs, it was certainly always a dream as it would be in any season, but whether we felt we would get there, I don’t think we had a view, and we just would do our best. It seems like our best has been better than almost anyone expected.
So for that reason, I wouldn’t say that we went out expecting to make playoffs – because that would be a tall order for anyone as an expansion team – but I think the way we went about the assemblance of our roster and the plan we had, as I said, to be very solid defensively both in that backline and in central midfield has proven to be the right decision. The outcome looks good.”
What does the playoff system feel like as someone who came from a pro-rel situation in England?
“Absolutely, I think it’s a good format for this league, and getting there is just like winning the league in other countries: you’re kind of playing for those positions in the top end of the league to go into a – usually a different competition – in European soccer it was the case when I was at Liverpool. It’s not dissimilar to that, that you’re fighting and fighting to get into that final bracket.
Then what I think is great about the playoffs for a team like us is that, once you get into the playoffs, it’s a one-and-done game scenario. I don’t think there’ll be many teams who want to play Nashville in the playoffs. I think we’re difficult to beat, I think we can frustrate other teams, we’re hard to break down, so – and Gary and Dax will talk much more eloquently about that than me – but I think that getting in there is the harder part, and then we’ll give everything we’ve got and I think we’ll take any one on any day.”
With all the speedbumps and twists in the stadium situation, does each time you can provide an update like today’s make it feel a little more real?
“It’s been a strange old journey, the stadium. Kind of with its ups and downs, a bit like 2020. I think for all of us who are closer to it, we’ve never really wavered. I think we’ve had some difficult days on it, but I think for me, today more than anything, is a big positive for our fans. You know people read stuff and see stuff and concern about stuff, and construction could not be going better, it’s moving along at pace. The revenue bonds were approved in the Sport Authority meeting this morning.
“The structure’s starting to take shape: if you go down and you see the site itself, there’s real shape and scope and scale to that, and come the early part of the new year, we’ll start to see steel coming out of the ground, and then the real structure will start to take shape. And so every passing day or week, this thing has more realism to it, and it won’t – as is often the case with these things – you think it’s a long way off, and then all of a sudden it’s upon you. That was the case with starting in MLS and I feel like that’s the case right now with the stadium, is that this thing is gonna start gathering speed rally quickly, and we’re excited about that, particularly for our fans.”
Coming from Liverpool, were you surprised how quickly this thing became successful, and how will that continue into the future?
“I think in any team – in my time at Liverpool, I don’t really see any differently to my time at Nashville, in the sense that we’re trying to build a team – the difference here is we’re starting from zero, whereas whenever you join almost any other soccer club, you’re joining and inheriting a roster or an organization. So yeah, pleasantly surprised in what we’ve achieved this season, as we all are. I think what nobody’s getting carried away with themselves, I think what we all know is we still have a lot of work to do both for the remainder of this season but also as we go into ’21 and beyond.
“As much work from Mike – the fantastic work that Mike Jacobs and his team have done – will continue, and that has been continuing, to be honest. We don’t wait until the end of this season to do the work to decide on what direction and what positions we might strengthen in 2021. So that work’s already going on, and we’re completely aware of – it’s almost that happens as an aside. We’re assessing Gary, and Mike, and others – everyone’s assessing how we’ve performed in different positions, and how much depth or strength we have in those positions, and we’ll just continue to add to it. I think going back to what I said earlier about how do you measure success, I think what you always want to do is see that we’re moving forward, and moving forward next year might be in a different form: it might be we win more games, it might be that we bring in more players that we feel gives us more depth, it could be a whole bunch of things.
But we’re setting the bar high for ourselves achieving this in the first year. We said right at the start, and John Ingram, our owner, said ‘go big or go home,’ so we’ll plod away at it as I said before, I think we always want to be the guy that doesn’t make too much noise, isn’t too flashy, gets the job done. Hopefully that translates into success on and off the pitch. I feel good about the foundation we’ve built and what we’ve achieved. If we can continue to make that level of progress. Then, again, as I’ve said before, we’re coming to challenge, not just take part.
What considerations are you taking into account in terms of the pandemic’s effect on ticketing, etc.
“I think what that does more than anything is it limits the opportunity of how many people can come in and enjoy soccer next season perhaps. We don’t – as I’m sure is the case with everybody – really know what that looks like yet for 2021. We know – I think we feel strongly – that there will be some level of restriction, at least in the early part. We still also don’t know what the start date is for next season completely yet.
“So a lot of moving parts, but as it the case with I’m sure almost every business these days, we have different scenario planning. So the very fortunate thing – and I’ve said many times that we’re hugely grateful of the Titans and their support in allowing us to play at Nissan Stadium. What’s great about Nissan Stadium in this current situation is it’s such a big old stadium that even at 50% capacity, it’s a big number. Even at 25% it’s a big number. Hopefully that allows us to bring as many people as we can attract to game next season.
“Again, we also are very focused on trying to get people in to establish themselves and establish their place in line for the new stadium, which will also be on sale during 2021. And some of the premium products, maybe even sooner than that. So I think it is challenging, we have four or five different plans in the draw, but as far as supporters or fans are concerned, we’ll be open for business we hope, and we hope for as many people as possible, and we hope that attracts as many people as possible.
“We were unfortunate that in reality, we only had one unrestricted game this year. But what a game: 59,000 people, fantastic atmosphere, great stadium, great spectacle. And I hope that we get to do more of the same in ’21 and that our fans get to come back and enjoy it in a better form than we’ve seen of late. But still attractive to come, still great to see your team, and still great to cheer them on.”
The 2021 season ticket prices saw a decrease from the 2020 season. What were the considerations that went into that?
“I think we’re just trying to find a balance. We’re trying to… we’ll always be learning and changing and adapting. Adapting obviously, because of the pandemic and the challenges of that, and the fact that the experience is slightly different. And adapting because we look across the league and see how that’s working for other clubs. We don’t profess to know everything; we’re the new kids on the block, so we’ll always adapt in that.
“We always want to be able to offer something for everyone. That’s as true for 2021 in Nissan as it will be in the new stadium. That people we recognize, and particularly in this current world, that people are at different price points, people have different financial concerns and challenges. People have different things that they need to achieve. By offering a wide range of price points, probably we deliver something that’s available to everyone’s pocket.”