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Nashville SC, MLS battle over stadium delays

A rendering of the proposed Nashville SC stadium (Credit: Nashville SC)

Major League Soccer expansion team Nashville SC and the league itself have publicly lashed out at Nashville Mayor John Cooper over ongoing delays to the club’s planned new stadium at Fairgrounds Nashville.

Nashville SC will join the league in 2020 and initially play at Nissan Stadium, the home of the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans, until its own proposed 30,000-capacity, soccer-specific stadium is ready.

In March 2019, Nashville SC chief executive Ian Ayre said the team would not move to the facility until at least 2022, back from the original goal of 2021, due to various construction issues. But now it seems unclear if and when this will happen.

Construction on the $275m facility, which was approved by the Metro Council in 2017, has stalled since October as the newly-elected Cooper has delayed giving the green light to demolition on the site to get the project started. Cooper was an outspoken critic of the stadium prior to his election last year.

These delays have led to immense frustration from MLS, who said it awarded Nashville an expansion team largely contingent on the stadium deal.

In an effort to speed up the process, Cooper met with MLS and Nashville SC executives in New York City on January 30. However, the meeting resulted in an angry statement from both Nashville SC and MLS.

A joint statement read: “Earlier today, we met with Mayor John Cooper at Major League Soccer’s office in New York City to discuss the status of Nashville SC’s stadium project. The new stadium and ancillary development have very broad support throughout Nashville and has been overwhelmingly approved multiple times by Metro Council.

“Despite that, Mayor Cooper has not provided approval to begin the demolition to move forward with the stadium project. So, for the past four months, Nashville SC has worked to make the stadium deal even better and has proposed a number of new solutions to satisfy his concerns.

“Even with these proposed new solutions, the Mayor today refused to commit to move forward with the demolition and the approved stadium plan. During today’s meeting, MLS Commissioner Don Garber made it clear to Mayor Cooper that Major League Soccer would not have awarded Nashville an expansion team without the commitment made by the city to build a soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. The Mayor’s continued refusal to proceed is a deep disappointment to Nashville SC and MLS.

“Nashville SC has agreed to work with the Mayor’s office over the next week to advance the discussions and finalize a plan to begin the stadium construction project. We hope for a mutually agreeable solution and expect to have an update regarding the project by February 6.”

Cooper said in a statement: “Since entering office four months ago, I’ve worked towards a complete solution for the Fairgrounds that is both financially sustainable and results in a successful, unified site plan. This past week, I met with racing advocates as well as MLS. I appreciate MLS and its advocacy for professional soccer in Nashville.

“I also appreciate all parties are working together to improve the plan for the entire Fairground, both in design and financing. I will continue to chart a path forward that makes good financial sense for all of Nashville’s taxpayers.”

In December, The Athletic reported that Nashville SC had sold approximately just 5,000 season tickets, far behind recent MLS expansion teams Minnesota United, Atlanta United, LAFC and FC Cincinnati.