Nashville approves stadium at last minute in exchange for affordable housing, soccer balls

The simmering Nashville S.C. existential crisis — MLS had approved an expansion franchise after the city council approved a new stadium with $75 million in public subsidies (plus free land), but it turned out they hadn’t actually approved approved it yet — was taken off the burner last night, as the council voted 31-8 to demolish existing buildings at the city’s fairgrounds to clear the way for the stadium, while also approving bills to rezone the land, approve the team’s ground lease, and sell $50 million in bonds to help fund construction. The council also voted 25-12 to reject a proposal for a public referendum on the stadium bonds.

All this happened by the skin of the council’s teeth, as even earlier in the day, it wasn’t clear if the stadium plan would must the necessary 27 votes for passage. But when the team and the community group Stand Up Nashville announced a community benefits agreement earlier in the day, that was enough to shake loose the deciding swing votes.

So what did Nashville get in the CBA? A minimum wage of $15.50 for stadium workers, a requirement that at least 20% of the new residential units be “affordable” or “workforce” housing (no details available on what income band this would need to be affordable to), the inclusion of a day care center, some soccer equipment for Metro schools, and a few other things. It’s not nothing, but it’s also going to cost the team owners a drop in the bucket compared to the $75 million (plus free land!) that the city is gifting to the team owners. So, classify it under “better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick,” which is where the vast majority of stadium deals end up.

Nashville S.C. is now all set to enter MLS in 2020 along with David Beckham’s Miami team, which will bring the number of teams in the league to an even 28. This is not large for a U.S. sports league, but is mammoth for a soccer league, which usually top out at 20; it remains to be seen whether the league’s policy of endless expansion will ever hit a wall, but for now, the owners can keep on cashing those $150 million expansion fee checks.

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17 comments on “Nashville approves stadium at last minute in exchange for affordable housing, soccer balls

  1. A league that tops out at 20 in a country with 40 million people. Based on that statement MLS needs to add 100 more teams.

    1. ???

      None of the major Euro leagues are in countries with 40 million people. The UK/France/Italy are all in the 60-65 range (depending on if you count the UK or England. Just England is 65. Germany is much larger. I guess Spain has 45 million people, but it also is a top flight reach worldwide.

      And you need to factor in the relative interest and saturation of the areas. People like futbol more in Spain than the US, and the US Sports market is much ore crowded (though we are also richer).

  2. Brazil population is 207 million. Most leagues in world with 20 teams are located in countries with population south of 40 million. Btw Nashville is putting up 25m up front, so that 75m you love to throw around is actually 50. Also prep work at Fairgrounds was going to happen anyway so that 50 drops to 25.

    1. It’s $225 million in bonds, of which taxpayers will be paying off $50 million; plus $25m each in cash from the team and the public. Here’s the link again:

      As for “most leagues,” you are correct that most countries have smaller populations than the U.S. Even those with larger populations don’t have 28-team soccer leagues, though. (China has 16 teams.)

    2. I know this is a joke, but the 20 teams is to limit the number of games per team to 38 (home/home pair against each team), vice anything to do with size.

      If you’re doing uneven divisional play you can have more teams, but then you need to ask yourself why get large since it dilutes high profile games and competition in general. I think the MLS has decided the answer is to not ask why, but ask why not.

  3. The team got the land because the city insisted on a non downtown location. The land is to avoid another Columbus situation. The team would gladly give the land back for a downtown location.

    1. What on earth do you mean by this? The team is free to purchase a downtown location with its own damn money. No one is stopping them.

      They absolutely do not want a downtown location more than they want the subsidy.

  4. Considering MLS covers both Canada and USA, a goal of 28 teams in the league is not too large. There are currently 23 teams playing, and the addition of Cincy, Miami, and Nashville will bring the league to 26 teams. 2 more expansion teams are planned in the future, bringing the league finally to 28.

  5. Ahh, the CBA.

    This worked *once* in the circumstance of the staples center in LA, where the developers really seemed to think that they needed to provide something back to the local communities.

    Since then, it’s been a way for developers to pick or create “deserving” community groups that will then come out and support the project, no matter how awful or how little the CBA sends back to the community.

    yet another good idea twisted into an unfortunate direction.

  6. Even based on your original choice of Brazil which Google claims a population of 207, that would put MLS at about 35 teams. Fact is the MLS not only competes with multiple leagues around the world but also has to compete the US established leagues that receive billions in subsides. The bashers and Euro slobs would love to see MLS stay at 20 teams so they can keep the status quo and see MLS eventually fail because they refuse to grow and compete with leagues already at 32 teams. We can argue if Nashville is getting 25 or 75m but at the end of the day the other teams in town have received at least a billion and the NHL gets operating subsides and the Titans are on the verge of asking for 200 million plus in renovation money.

  7. If your newspaper went out business because the city was steering sponsorships and subsides to your competition ? The only European example that even comes close would be how Barca & Real get most of the TV money, giving them a huge advantage over their competition.

    1. This argument is a bit absurd.

      The European Union alone is a bit larger than the US, and UEFA includes many countries not in the EU…so lets say about 750 million (more than double the US). The UEFA Champions League Group and Knockout stages include 32 teams (after many champions of smaller leagues are knocked out in play-in games). By that standard, MLS should have about 16 teams in the first league.

      Arguing “national leagues” are the equivalent of MLS is silly. Most European national leagues are too big already and include teams from very small cities that will never really compete without insane ownership expenditures–and the financial gulf is getting bigger. Top teams in Europe are essentially leaving money on the table by playing in places like Burnley, Lens, and Lecce instead of each other–but many fans like the traditions and it means the big teams win a lot every year.

      US markets are generally bigger, but without more TV money MLS will be at best a selling league which (in certain markets) might attract an aging foreign star. Young guys with national team pedigree are going to academies and teams in Europe for now. Expanding MLS actually will lower the quality of product and basically is an expensive way to give hipsters another place to hang out (and I like soccer).

      1. Except the champions leagues play in sixteen team groups of 4, so based on the EU population the optimal number of teams for the MLS is just 8 divisions of 2 teams in each division. With top in each going to the knockout round

        Yes I find the whole teams by population argument ridiculous. Other leagues are at 20, because that is the FIFA limit to limit games played. Why does FIFA want to limit he ga,es played, to protect the number of international dates available to FIFA and the confederations for cash cows like the World Cup. The number is entirely arbitrary though, and leagues are free to ignore it. Other than FIFA complaining there is not any sort of punishment for exceeding it (most leagues follow it though, but more in an effort to limit who they need to give TV money to more than anything else).

  8. Hello everyone, I am sure I missed something really obvious but why does the number of teams in European leagues influence why people in Tennessee should subsidize football? Again, if this is how people in TN want to spend their money they should but with the understanding that historically there have not been impressive financial returns for governments on this kind of subsidy.

    1. I for one am all for paying for entertainment so long as that’s what you expect to get…don’t bother with the development stuff.

      With MLS, the league numbers point to an issue that people pay more for an asset that in many ways is less valuable. Tennessee will likely see a less talented team than they are paying for.

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