NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Does a pledge of $250 million indicate that Nashville is moving forward in the Major League Soccer expansion derby while Cincinnati runs the risk of falling behind?
The Music City got a boost in its bid for a franchise Monday, even as news that it had been selected as one of four expansion cities turned out to be premature.
Soccer fans jumped for joy when MLS reporter Jeff Rueter tweeted that Nashville was getting a club in 2019, but Rueter retracted that later after MLS repeated no decision on new clubs would be announced until December.
An update: while my sources are "confident" Nashville will earn spot, MLS not making final decision until December. Nothing official today.
— Jeff Rueter (@jeffrueter) October 2, 2017
While Nashville wasn’t even on MLS radar a year ago, the mayor has thrown her support behind a billionaire businessman in an aggressive pitch that may make Cincinnati and other cities that haven’t agreed to finance soccer stadiums stand up and take notice.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry announced plans Monday for a $250 million soccer stadium in which the Metro government would pay construction costs and a private ownership group led by billionaire John Ingram would pay most of the city’s debt, according to the Tennessean newspaper.
The deal calls for Metro to issue between $200 million and $225 million in revenue bonds. Metro would borrow an additional $25 million through general obligation bonds to improve infrastructure. Ingram’s group would commit $25 million in cash.
Under a 30-year lease, franchise owners would make annual $9 million lease payments to the city that would go toward $13 million in anticipated yearly debt. Metro would own the stadium.
The 27,500-seat soccer stadium would be built at the Metro-owned Fairgrounds.
In Cincinnati, county and city leaders have balked at FC Cincinnati’s request for up to $100 million in public support for a new soccer stadium.
Likewise, voters in St. Louis rejected a plan to fund an MLS stadium in April, San Diego's city council punted a referendum to November 2018, and a plan in Charlotte has failed to gain traction in its city council, the Tennessean reported.
When MLS Commissioner Don Garber visited Nashville in July, he said the Music City had gone from an afterthought to "pretty high on the list" among 12 cities in the hunt for four MLS expansion spots.
Wait! How could that be?
Nashville doesn’t even have a pro soccer club, though it has been accepted into the United Soccer League – the second-tier league that includes Cincinnati – for 2018.
Garber said MLS was surprised to even receive a bid from Nashville last December. But he said that Nashville, under a "committed ownership group" led by billionaire Ingram and businessman Bill Hagerty, has really risen pretty high on the list.”
Garber has insisted through the expansion process that new franchises would be required to own or control a soccer-specific stadium.
FC Cincinnati has consistently drawn USL-record crowds – and more fans than 10 MLS teams - to the University of Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium for the past two years. But club president Jeff Berding insists FC Cincinnati needs it own stadium to satisfy the MLS mandate. Berding also says Nippert has structural limitations that can't be overcome.
FC Cincinnati has identified potential sites in the West End, Oakley and Newport, Kentucky, Berding said.
It’s not clear, though, whether Garber still maintains that hard line after his comments to the Orlando Sentinel two weeks ago.
Garber spoke to the newspaper after attending an Atlanta United-Orlando City match with more than 70,000 fans in the new stadium that the Atlanta United shares with the NFL Atlanta Falcons.
"The good thing about being new and trying to figure it out as you go along is you have a specific plan and then there are times when you have to modify that plan," Garber said. "I think good business leaders and good businesses, ya know, don’t just get stuck in their previous strategies but try to evolve and see how things develop."
The other cities vying for MLS expansion teams are Indianapolis, Sacramento, Phoenix, San Antonio, Detroit, Tampa and Raleigh/Durham.