Ian Ayre photo entirely appropriate for the subject matter, but from file.
Nashville SC CEO Ian Ayre met with the media this afternoon to discuss several matters of team business relating to the stadium. Watch or read his full comments here.
CEO Ian Ayre
“Good afternoon everyone, thanks for stealing yourself away from the Germany-France game. At the heart of this, we said all along that we wanted to reward those people who committed to the team early, and that goes a long way back, even back to our days in USL and the commitment people made then.
“This is a really exciting time for those people and the people who came after them and have made a commitment to be season-ticket holders, to get an opportunity do be some of the first people to choose their actual physical seats in this new stadium. As everyone’s seen online and in the media, the stadium’s coming along fantastically well and we’re hugely excited to be able to literally let people – virtually – in the door and go and make their choices. A nice opportunity to reward those who’ve reward us with their support.”
What are the numbers looking like for ticket sales so far?
“We’re over 11,000 now. I think just over 11.5. That’s kind of crept along. I think it’s a big increase on last year. It continues to grow, surprisingly. We’re games into the season, and you have people still making a commitment. That’s general-admission season tickets, so it doesn’t include the premium that we’ve already sold in the new stadium. I would say with everything combined, we’re getting pretty close to half-full at this stage – with obviously quite a long time still to go.
“Our ambition, really, is to keep that number going. I don’t know that we have an individual number target. I think I would hope that we can get that number somewhere near 20,000, maybe beyond. As we saw last year – we’re working with a very small dataset here at Nashville just because of the pandemic – I think we’ve had two games of unlimited support allowed, and one of those was 60,000, and the other over 20,000. So it’s hard to know.
“But I think we feel encouraged that even in that opening game in 2020, we saw that a lot of people came late, a lot of people committed late, and for not everyone the new stadium I think is a huge attraction. We’ll see a big uplift. So our ticketing team are doing a fantastic job. There’s a lot of excitement about the new stadium, and I think our ambitions will be fulfilled.”
You have a wide range of pricing points, but many of them are on the cheaper end when compared around MLS. Is that a conscious decision for price-accessibility, or what else is behind that pricing structure?
“You’re exactly right, Tim [nailed it]. Our objective here – I think if you go back here to when before we even kicked a ball in Major League Soccer, we talked a lot about John Ingram’s vision of building this team in Nashville for everyone in Nashville. I think if you translate that in its various forms in different parts of the club, I would say that also means something for everybody’s price points. So, whether it’s having a $12 kid’s ticket in the family section, or I think an $18 First String season ticket lowest price in General Admission, right up to the most expensive seat in general admission for the season-ticket holder being about $115 I think: that’s all designed around it – as is the premium product.
“At some point, there is a range between that 12 dollars and the most-expensive per-seat per-game ticket in premium, and I think that was always our objective: let’s make it accessible to everyone – literally everyone. Everyone can afford $18 at least once a season, if not for the whole season ticket. So you know, that was a very conscious decision.
We have a big old stadium that is ambitious, and we want to make sure that we give everybody the opportunity to come to that. As I’ve said, what we saw in our opening game was 60,000. This is half that size. But I hope that pricing appeals to people When you think that you can bring a family of four as a season-ticket holder in our First String group, a family of four for two kids under 12 and two adults for about $64 a game, I think that’s hugely attractive in this market, and in any major-league sport.
When will the seats themselves be installed? And what is the status on the training facility at Century Farms?
“On the seats themselves, Drake, I don’t know the exact date. I know that the big focus right now is on the main structure, so sometime around about August, we would hope to finish the steelwork and get close to completion on the canopy. As we go from there, there’s a lot of work going on right now to build out the inner spaces.
“The seating will come toward the end, largely. I don’t have a specific date – it’s probably in the manifest, I could look at it – but we’re hugely encouraged. I have to tell you our partners: Mortensen Messer, Populars, everyone who’s been involved in the building construction project. That thing’s flying along; I couldn’t be happier with the work and the timelines that they’re adhering to.
On the other side of things, the practice facility’s been a lot in planning and development. I think you should all expect that in the coming days or week or so, we’ll start to issue some renderings of that. Again, it’s moving along at the pace we wanted and expected.
“I was over at our academy this morning, where the first team are based currently. Everybody’s looking forward to it – having a fantastic time down there at Currey Ingram Academy, but of course players and staff will be even happier when we get to that new facility. It’s something that we’ve worked really hard on. It’s in a great location, having seen the renderings myself, I think our fans in the city will be very proud when we’re able to share those in due course.”
Is the stadium construction still on schedule? Is late-May still the plan for opening?
“Plans very much on schedule. As to being early, you know, I think that’s way too far away to know anything of that. I think we feel encouraged, as I’ve said, that we haven’t had any delays – when we have had minor delays due to, let’s say, significant rain or weather, our partners have worked round the clock, weekends, and others just to keep that schedule going. I’ve been involved in a number of big construction projects, and I’ve never worked – I could honestly say – with a group that puts so much into keeping that on time.
“It’s also very clean and effective a worksite, and that’s down to all the people that put all that effort in. But it’s very much on-time and on-budget at this stage.”
What are some of the other non-construction aspects of the stadium that you’re working on to be ready for it?
“It’s a great question, drake. I’ve used the phrase before that this really becomes the spiritual home of Nashville Soccer Club. There’s so many different vertical pieces of business that we have to both recruit for and develop – and then deliver.
“Everything from – you can imagine – our merchandising business, where we’re co-located with the Titans in Nissan is a very different proposition to that where we’ll have three or four stores in our new stadium, and so building all of that. Everything from the look and feel of those stores to the merchandise that we have to pre-order to go in there and putting all the process together. The same on ticketing, we have to look at parking in and around the stadium, and the management of all of that. We have to look at all of these fantastic facilities that we’re building from the three or four lounges, and other facilities within the building, and a whole different chunk of people, certainly on the sales and executional side, looking at how we bring this stadium to life 365 days a year, not just for gameday.
“So internally right now, right now, lots of people very focused on delivering soccer in a new stadium, but other people as well as some of those [same] people, as well and other people coming to the team – that will focus on non-gameday activity, will focus on concerts and other events within the lounges, and private events. So much work. And then the whole food-service side of the facility, so trying to build – again, I think I’ve talked about this before – but we’ve worked really hard over the last year, 18 months, on building with Levy our partners, we have a very special kind of deal and relationship with them that allows us to be very involved in the food choices and building what we call a ‘food story.’
“If you take each of those in their own right, they’re a huge project individually. So we’re all keeping ourselves very busy. Not just looking at the construction and obviously day-to-day running our games and our business for the ’21 season. We’re all very focused on all of those verticals and making sure that when this facility opens, it’s unrivaled both in Major League Soccer and also in the city. So a lot of work going on in a lot of places.”
If the season isn’t ready for the start of the 2022 season, do you have indication how MLS will handle the scheduling, in terms of a few games in Nissan, a long roadtrip, etc.?
“I think as we get closer to the end of this year, we’ll have a better indication of our actual date – to the question earlier about on-time, early, or late – it’s a little too early to know that, other than it’s on-time right now. Obviously that could improve or get worse in some cases. But we will have – and we are exploring – both options: one where it’s a shorter period from the season start to when we open, and therefore can we play those opening games on the road, and another where that gap is too long and we need to play some games at Nissan and then transition. I genuinely couldn’t answer that question with any level of certainty at this point.
“But as is always the case – a bit like when we were trying to get back from Covid – you have to have three or four different scenarios in the drawer, and as soon as we’re able to crystalize that into something that’s definite, then obviously we’d share that with all of our fans.”
Are you pursuing, and have you made progress on securing a title sponsor for the stadium?
“Yes, absolutely, Tim. Lots of really positive discussions there. I think two or three companies really making progress with our sales team in the building here. I was at lunch with one of those potential people today. I think we feel confident that we have a great facility that’s clearly attractive to big brands. It’s really about landing the best fish at the right time.
“I’m pleased and encouraged with the interest we’ve had, and pleased with the work that our team – internal and external – are doing on that. I feel confident that, within the right timescale, we’ll appoint somebody and then make a big splash about that at the appropriate time.”