Since the announcement that the Oakland Athletics will consider moving to another city, Nashville’s name has been thrown back into the baseball discussion.
If the A’s would move, can Nashville be a viable option? Can the city afford another major league sports team? How would this affect the residents?
These are all important questions regardless if the A’s leave Oakland since Music City Baseball LLC has been building momentum to bring MLB to Nashville for a number of years now. The MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has also listed Nashville as one of four potential expansion cities if the league decided to expand with other cities including Portland, Las Vegas and Charlotte.
All of that creates one big question that needs to be asked: Is Nashville MLB ready now?
Over the past 10 years, Nashville has exploded both economically and in population becoming the hottest city in the country and, with that, has also become much more notable. The Nashville sports scene has also seen many benefits from this. For instance, Nashville has hosted NCAA Tournament games as well as the SEC Basketball Tournament for quite a number of years; the Titans and Nissan Stadium continue to stand firm and engulf the city during football season; and the 2018 NFL Draft hosted in Nashville was the biggest draft ever both in attendance and in TV ratings.
Additionally, the Predators have made the playoffs for seven consecutive seasons, went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, won the President’s Trophy in 2018, and hosted the 2016 NHL All-Star Game with Bridgestone Arena becoming one of the most difficult arenas for opposing teams to play in and continuing to win awards for its excellence.
The new kid in town, the Nashville Soccer Club (NSC), is growing its fanbase and reach rapidly while having their brand new arena opening up at the Fairgrounds at the beginning of 2022. Nashville has also seen racing come back in 2021 with NASCAR driving at the Nashville Superspeedway in Lebanon and IndyCar building a street-course around downtown in August. To top it off, we cannot forget the minor league team, the Nashville Sounds, who opened First Horizon Park in 2015 and have seen some major events and fantastic attendance.
First Tennessee Park. Photo: Courtesy of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp
Nashvillians have proved to love sports and the city has become one of the most exciting sports cities in America. In regards to fan reception, financial viability, and commitment from the city, Nashville is absolutely ready for this next step of a major league baseball team. However, it’s not that simple.
Where will the stadium be? How much will it cost? Who’s going to pay for it?
Nashville’s downtown is already jam-packed between the legendary honkytonks, new bougie bars, Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone, and a brand new $1.2 billion facility soon to be built by Oracle across the Cumberland River.
Would they put another stadium by the fairgrounds next to the racetrack and NSC’s new stadium?
Music City Baseball LLC (MCB LLC), which is being led by businessman John Loar and former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, has been pushing for MLB to come to Nashville and has been planning what a stadium might look like and where it might be. Currently the plan is to place the stadium across the river directly next to Nissan Stadium, a design seen in most sporting cities.
Rendering of possible MLB stadium in Downtown Nashville. Courtesy of Music City Baseball LLC.
The now named Nashville Stars is being promoted as the next baseball team in Nashville and has some heavy hitters behind the movement, such as Titans legend Eddie George, pop music superstar and Tennessee native Justin Timberlake, and Baseball Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa. Their plan is to be an ‘expansion team’ or be the place that can offer an MLB team a new home, like the A’s or the Tampa Bay Rays who have also been in the discussion of possible relocation. Once again, though, how likely is this to happen and what kind of costs are we realistically looking at?
In an interview with Sportico’s podcast, MLB commissioner Manfred explained that when the league expands there will most likely be an expansion fee of at least $2.2 billion. However, in the article Sportico valuation reporters Peter Schwartz and Kurt Badenhausen thought that price point was high and that the average MLB franchise price was closer to the tune of $1.58 billion.
In a league like the MLB where you have franchises like the Yankees and the Dodgers, their net worth can make the median franchise price very lopsided. Nashville, with only two major sports teams, is currently listed as the 28th biggest sports market, according to Nielsen DMA Rankings. For reference, the Atlanta Braves, whose home city ranks 10th in sports market, is worth somewhere around $1.875 billion. The Predators, Nashville’s most successful franchise in recent years, is only worth $435 million while the Titans who have seen ups and downs over the past 10 years is worth around $2.3 billion.
If $2.2 billion is the asking price for expansion, Nashville would be overpaying significantly. As of September of 2020, MCB LLC has raised as much as $3 million, so unless a George Steinbrenner comes along with billions of dollars, the city would need to throw its own money into the mix which means more Davidson County tax dollars.
Last year, Mayor John Cooper and NSC were at a stalemate as the city did not want to take on the debt from the cost of a soccer stadium and the infrastructure that comes with it. After some time and some discussion, they came to an agreement that team owner John Ingram would take on the $250 million they received in public financing. Cooper has already shown his stance on public funds paying for a sports team and its arena, so would it be different if it were baseball?
Only time will tell as things begin to get more serious regarding a Nashville major league baseball team. As for now, it’s all up in the air, but the continued growth of the city, the sports teams, and the long-term financial success of the Nashville Sounds will make Music City an even more desirable location for America’s favorite pastime.