Sunday, May 1, 2022, will be a momentous day in sports history in the south, a day when the Music City of Nashville, TN will become the city that’s home to the largest soccer-specific stadium in North America.
Major League Soccer club Nashville SC, which entered the league during the COVID-19-affected 2020 MLS season with a nationally-televised game on FOX Sports versus Atlanta United at its now-former home of Nissan Stadium, also the home venue to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, will open its new venue, Geodis Park, in a nationally-televised match on ESPN against the Philadelphia Union.
The Road to Geodis Park: How Nashville SC Got Here
To best understand how Nashville SC arrived at this momentous occasion in its history, we first have to go back in time almost six years to the summer of 2016.
At that point, a group of 22 Nashville businesspeople, headed by now-Sen. Bill Hagerty, founded the Nashville MLS Organizing Committee with the effort of bringing an MLS team to the Music City right away.
This committee, which also included Denis Le Vot, then the chairman of Nissan of North America, backed the expansion effort of Nashville SC in its early days as a USL club which played in its 2018 and 2019 seasons before Nashville SC officially joined MLS in the 2020 season, inheriting the Nashville SC name used by the USL team.
The effort to bring MLS to Tennessee formally commenced at the outset of the 2017 calendar year, and by March of that year, John Ingram, who would eventually become Nashville SC’s owner, purchased a majority ownership stake in DMB Soccer.
To quote an article from The Tennessean on the purchase by John Ingram: “It makes Ingram the majority owner of Nashville SC. And it means that Nashville’s MLS bid is now aligned with the United Soccer League’s Nashville SC, likely strengthening Nashville’s candidacy for one of four MLS expansion spots.”
Minnesota Vikings Owners Join Nashville SC Effort and MLS Comes Calling
In August of 2017, one year into the effort to bring MLS to Nashville, the expansion bid got another boost in the form of NFL ownership.
Mark, Zygi, and Leonard Wilf, the co-owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings franchise, invested in Nashville SC, alongside Ingram and Steve and Jay Turner, who oversee the Dollar General chain of shopping centers.
Prior to investing in Nashville SC, the Wilf family spearheaded a failed expansion bid to bring MLS to Minneapolis, though Minnesota United would eventually join MLS in its 2019 season.
Right before Christmas in 2017, it was revealed that Nashville would be selected as an MLS expansion city, with Nashville SC joining the league in time for its 25th anniversary season in 2020.
Subsequent to that news, Gary Smith, who was initially hired to coach Nashville SC in the USL ahead of its 2018 launch in that league, was retained as head coach ahead of its inaugural year in MLS, as announced in 2019.
Geodis Park Begins To Take Shape
In the fall of 2017, prior to Nashville SC being announced as an MLS expansion team, the Nashville Metro Council gave authorization for the stadium project in Nashville to begin by funding the $275 million (USD) stadium on the Tennessee State Fairgrounds that November, with final approval being given the next year.
The final price tag for the privately-funded Geodis Park was $335 million after additional monies were pledged toward the project.
Even though the funding had been approved, Nashville SC wasn’t home free as far as the stadium project was concerned quite yet.
Lawsuit Brought On By Tennessee State Fair Board, Later Dropped
At the beginning of the 2019 calendar year, John Rose, the former Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture, spearheaded an initiative by the Tennessee State Fair and Exposition Committee to file suit against Nashville Soccer Holdings, LLC as a means of ceasing the project, on the basis that a stadium on the fairgrounds would yield reduced space to hold the state fair.
This suit was eventually dropped “with prejudice,” thereby permitting the construction of what eventually became Geodis Park to proceed without the threat of any additional appeals from opponents of the stadium project.
Stadium Specifics For Nashville SC’s New Home
At capacity, Geodis Park will seat 30,000 spectators on match days, including Sunday’s home opener, which has been sold out since early April.
As previously mentioned, when the stadium opens on Sunday afternoon, it will become the largest soccer-specific venue in North America.
Other specifics regarding Geodis Park include the following:
- The stadium has a full-circle canopy.
- Geodis Park’s concourse has a width of 65 feet.
- 150 feet separates the last row of seats from the sidelines, enabling those supporters to get a close-up view of the action on game days.
- Geodis Park’s design was overseen by Kansas City-based architectural firm Populous, which previously oversaw the design of six other soccer-specific MLS stadiums inside the United States, as well as Bank of America Stadium, the home venue of Charlotte FC, back in the 1990s.
Celebrities Join Ownership of Nashville SC Ahead of Inaugural Match at Geodis Park
Wednesday afternoon, the club announced on its website and its social media channels that two prominent Nashville celebrities would be joining Nashville SC’s ownership group.
Tennessee Titans halfback Derrick Henry and 2006 Academy Award recipient for Best Actress Reese Witherspoon became part owners of Nashville SC ahead of the inaugural match at Geodis Park this coming Sunday.
Henry and Witherspoon were flanked by Jim Toth, Witherspoon’s husband, a software investor, as the three newest minority owners of the third-year MLS club.
The running back and the Oscar-winner join a growing line of celebrities who have ownership stakes in MLS clubs, such as comedian-turned game show host Drew Carey, Saturday Night Live alumnus Will Ferrell, and Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife, R&B recording artist Ciara.
Even though Nashville will always be known for its status as the birthplace of country and western music, the city has proven itself to be a soccer town, as well.
Nashville SC’s fans showed up and showed out more than two years ago at Nissan Stadium for the team’s inaugural match in MLS on national television.
This coming Sunday, they’ll show up and show out all over again for quite the housewarming party in the team’s inaugural match at Geodis Park.
Congratulations to Nashville SC on the new stadium.