Nashville lands MLS expansion team; Detroit waits

The Associated Press

Nashville, Tenn. — Major League Soccer is continuing its expansion into the southeast, awarding Nashville the first of its newest expansion franchises as MLS’ 24th team .

Commissioner Don Garber made the announcement Wednesday at a news conference with Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and John R. Ingram, head of the group now bringing an MLS team to Nashville.

“Nashville is a rising city with a passionate soccer fan base, a dedicated ownership group and civic leaders that truly believe in this sport,” Garber said in a statement. “Nashville continues its ascent as one of America’s most dynamic communities, with its incredible energy and creativity. For us, that makes it a perfect place for MLS expansion.”

Nashville and Sacramento, California, had been viewed as the favorites for the league’s newest teams, with Cincinnati and Detroit the other finalists. A decision on the second area picked is expected within a few weeks. Atlanta United joined Minnesota United this year as MLS’ latest expansion teams.

Nashville Soccer Holdings, LLC includes Ingram, chairman of Ingram Industries Inc., and the Wilf family, owner of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Ingram said it was a landmark day both for Nashville and the area’s loyal soccer fans who made a strong case for why the league needs to be in Music City.

“We will have a team that everyone can be proud of, and we will take a leadership role in enhancing the growth of the sport in a region that already has a passionate soccer culture,” Ingram said. “Nashville is going to be a very worthy addition to MLS.”

The Metro Nashville City Council on Nov. 7 approved $225 million in revenue bonds to construct a 27,500-seat soccer stadium and an additional $50 million in bonds for renovations and improvements around the site at the current fairgrounds.

This announcement brings another league into Tennessee. Nashville has an NFL franchise in the Tennessee Titans, which arrived from Houston in 1997. The Predators began play in 1998 as an NHL expansion franchise and lost to Pittsburgh in this year’s Stanley Cup Final.

Music City has been hosting soccer at the Titans’ Nissan Stadium in recent years and impressed Garber this summer when the U.S. played Panama in its CONCACAF Gold Cup opener. The July 8 game drew 42,622 fans to Nissan Stadium, and 56,232 attended a preseason exhibition on July 29 between Manchester City and Tottenham. A U.S. women’s national team match against France in March 2016 was attended by 25,363.

Nashville’s stadium proposal also includes private development of 10 acres around the stadium and renovation of the fairgrounds. The stadium could open by March 2021 with bonds approved on the condition Nashville receive an expansion franchise from MLS.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle on Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed in Tennessee Chancery Court’s 20th Judicial District by a group called Save Our Fairgrounds and 11 individuals. They were attempting to obtain court orders blocking a stadium to preserve the site for the state fair, auto racing and regular flea markets.