Wednesday’s announcement of Nashville being awarded a Major League Soccer franchise brings new excitement to Music City’s sports scene. Everyone seems to have jumped on board, from Mayor Megan Barry, to the Metro Council, and soccer fans across the mid-state. Even the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators, and Nashville Sounds are okay with it, according to Tennessean sports writer Mike Organ who has written about their approval: Titans, Sounds react to city landing MLS franchise
The pro football and pro soccer seasons will not overlap very much, so there’s no surprise the Titans welcomed the new entry. The MLS stadium to be built at the Fairgrounds will only hold 27,000, and there is no fear that soccer would ever outdraw football.
Soccer is no match for the professional hockey experience in Nashville.
Nashville Sounds approval goes hand in hand with the announcement, as the ball club will be hosting a United States League soccer franchise that may fill the desire of fans before the MLS team begins play. The Nashville Soccer Club will play 18 home games at the Sounds home ballpark in a schedule that will run March through October.
There was a day when a new sports franchise would not have been welcomed the same way.
Thirty-eight years ago, when Nashville was mentioned as a potential city in the fledgling World League of American Football, there was one team owner who was clearly against the idea: Nashville Sounds owner Larry Schmittou. The WLAF was an NFL-backed venture, envisioned as a developmental league for professional football; in fact, the league did commence play in 1991 with six teams in the United States, three in Europe, and one in Canada.
Nashville Sounds baseball was the only game in town. Schmittou’s disdain for any notion of Nashville becoming a team in the new league was clearly exhibited in a June 30, 1989 article by Tennessean sports writer Tom Wood: Schmittou hopes WLAF steers clear of city.
At a recent Golden Bison event at Lipscomb University, Tom related a story about his 1989 happenstance meeting of Schmittou in the Greer Stadium elevator, how he and the team owner discussed the WLAF. Yesterday I asked Tom if he would refresh me with what he said at Lipscomb.
“I asked Larry just off-handedly what he thought about the WLAF coming to Nashville, and he forcefully said he would do everything in his power to prevent it from happening, that it was competition he didn’t need, etc.,” said Tom. “Recognizing it would be a great story, I asked him if he’d say that on the record and he said “yes”. I got out my tape recorder and we repeated the conversation. He could’ve declined but he clearly wanted the story out there. I don’t think he realized the negative reaction it would generate; I sure didn’t.”
The Sounds president tied his dislike of any pro sport coming to the city on the hope he had for major league baseball to come to Nashville, but made it clear that his opinions were not personal, strictly business in the Tennessean article.
“I don’t have any control over it but I definitely think it would hurt the chances of major league baseball coming to this city.
“Baseball is the No. 1 priority to our investors and myself,” Schmittou said. “We have spent $10 million on our stadium over the last decade at no taxpayers’ expense. I don’t believe anybody else should get a break we’re not getting.
“Or how about in April when they’re playing a home game and we’re opening our season. My guess is we’ll be the ones to suffer.”
Clearly, Nashville in 1989 was a far different city than the one in the second decade of the 21st Century. It stands to reason that investors of a sports team nearly 40 years ago would protect their capital outlay and cost of running the team, but the economic climate today is bright for the future of soccer in a diverse Nashville.
Money will be being spent on a stadium location that will create additional havoc to a weak transportation system with no short-term solution, but with a fan base with dollars already being spent to attend music venues, honky tonks, and conventions.
“But there are only so many dollars to spend on all these sporting events,” Larry told me today, “and the first ones to be hurt by soccer are the Sounds. When I told Tom Wood what I did about the WLAF, it was more about setting the tone in defense of what we had going; but, we could not have kept it out. Especially if someone was going to put money behind it and if the city wanted it to happen.”
I have said before that we won’t see MLB in Nashville anytime soon. Larry agrees.
“I’m not sure even our grandchildren will see it,” he said.
One day, Nashville is going to be on Major League Baseball’s radar, if it isn’t already. Perhaps it’s a little closer all the time, and the soccer franchise announcement may have helped. We know Nashville’s vibrant opportunities were used in presentations before MLS powers.
But soon the Titans are going to ask for a new stadium to rival Atlanta, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles, just watch. When they do, it will be given it to them. They have been good for the growth of the city, and I doubt anyone wants to see them move someplace like Oakland when the Raiders move to Las Vegas.
The only saving grace for baseball would be for a new football stadium to be built on the East Bank site where the metal recycling business is, then conform Nissan Stadium into a ballpark. It’s been done before; remember the Olympic Stadium in Atlanta which became Turner Field?
I will hold out for us becoming MLB-worthy if-and-when someone, or some group with lots of money, makes a presentation to MLB for a baseball franchise here. If Major League Soccer can come to Nashville, why not Major League Baseball?
I just know my grandchildren would love it.
© 2017 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.
 Mike Organ, “Titans, Predators, Sounds react to city landing MLS franchise,” Tennessean, December 20, 2017, http://www.tennessean.com/story/sports/nashvillesc/2017/12/20/titans-sounds-react-city-landing-mls-franchise/969717001/ retrieved December 20, 2017
 Tom Wood, “Schmittou hopes WLAF steers clear of Nashville,” Nashville Tennessean, June 30, 1989, 23.
 Facebook message with Tom Wood, December 20, 2017
 Telephone conversation with Larry Schmittou, December 21, 2017
 “MLB in Nashville? Nope,” https://262downright.com/2017/07/12/mlb-in-nashville-nope/, retrieved December 20, 2017.