Does a Nashville MLB team make any damn sense? A brief investigation

While MLB tries to figure out if it can cobble together enough players for a shortened season amid the increasing number of players testing positive and opting to sit out the year, a different group of rich dudes are working on another possibly quixotic quest: landing a major-league franchise for Nashville. As you may recall from the before times, said rich dudes had previously drawn attention for speculation by announcing that their team that they don’t have would be named the Nashville Stars, then releasing stadium renderings that featured previously unheard-of crimes against geometry; there was also that rumor that the Baltimore Orioles could move to Nashville, which presumably wasn’t the wannabe owners’ doing, though since the report cited just “one rumor” as a source, it could well have been them.

Anyway, this week saw two separate headlines about Nashville’s MLB dreams:

The managing director of Music City Baseball is John Loar, who is a real estate developer (of gated communities in California!) and film producer (Teenage Paparazzo, an Adrian Grenier–directed documentary that according to one Rotten Tomatoes reviewer was “more thought provoking than I would have expected“) and looks like this:

I don’t normally like to make assumptions about people’s ethnicity, but I think it’s pretty fair to say that this guy is white.

Neither Stewart nor Loar, it turns out, said anything to USA Today about how the team would be majority Black-owned, but they did drop a whole lot of references to African-American things in hopes you won’t notice what the main owner and public face of the non-franchise looks like:

They plan to present MLB through a feasibility study and economic analysis why Nashville would be ideal for MLB. The plan is to build a 42,000-seat stadium, in honor of Jackie Robinson, with privately-funded money, and a surrounding mixed-use family sports and entertainment district.

“We have something unique here, and a way to unite the country,’’ said Loar, who also is creating a diversity oversight committee. “I really think MLB has a chance to be very proactive. We will honor the Negro Leagues with the name, the Nashville Stars. The connection to the Negro Leagues, diversity and inclusion is a big part of the foundation. We reached out to the black community here, our board is majority minority, and our current investors are over 30% diverse.

To recap: The stadium will “honor” Jackie Robinson, the Stars name will “honor” the Negro Leagues, and about a third of the individual investors (not a third of the shares, presumably) are “diverse,” however that’s being defined. To be charitable, one could say that Loar is reading the room well; to be less charitable, he’s a white guy trying to gain entry into the lucrative MLB owners’ club by portraying it as a way to “unite the country” around race.

None of which is likely to matter all that much to MLB, which will almost certainly select any future expansion franchises on the basis of 1) how much money an ownership group offers, 2) how big a media market it represents, and 3) see 1. On that count, Nashville scores pretty poorly: It’s the sixth-largest Nielsen market without an MLB team (behind Sacramento, Charlotte, Portland, Indianapolis, and Raleigh-Durham, plus Montreal, which as a Canadian city isn’t covered by Nielsen). It does have one of the better-attended Triple-A franchises, the Sounds, and is bigger than San Diego, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati, so you could make a decent case that it could be a marginal MLB market; however, you could make just as good a case for any of those other cities, so it’s hard to see why Nashville should be seen as at the top of any heap.

Also, MLB probably isn’t expanding anytime soon, though it’s possible that could change if owners decide they want a quick cash infusion to make up for Covid-related losses. More likely is that Thom Loverro is right:

A savvy negotiator creates leverage, and you can’t have leverage without other suitors. Maybe Loar is hoping that other MLB owners will be so happy with him for giving them a move threat candidate to shake in the faces of their current homes, they’ll eventually reward him with a team of his own? That would indeed be a kind of unity, but probably not the one most people would be hoping for.

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12 comments on “Does a Nashville MLB team make any damn sense? A brief investigation

  1. Nashville also has the distinction of not encroaching on another MLB market, so they should be able to carve out a sizable RSN without making another market too upset (see Portland: Seattle).

    If Nashville can assemble a solid stadium proposal and a well heeled/well connected ownership group, they would certainly be in the running for a team.

    That being said, and all else being equal (and it never is), if MLB wants to add one team in the east and one in the west, Nashville would have an uphill battle against Montreal and either Charlotte or Raleigh.

    1. if mlb expansion doesnt happen until later in the decade expect to hear alot from Raleigh. They seem like the only realistic chance to provide public funds.

    2. Isn’t Portland three hours or so from Seattle? I had in mind it’s just under 200 miles. I don’t think even MLB would consider a territorial issue with that kind of distance would they?

  2. Ahh, the Nashville Sounds.

    I remember on a ballpark trip walking up to the ticket office ‘will call’ window at old Herschel Greer Stadium and asked for the will call tickets for Smith (not my name). The lady asked if it was for 4 tickets for George Smith…I said yes…and she handed them over to me with no ID check.

    My buddy and I started walking to the entrance to get in the ballpark, but I got cold feet and took the tickets back to the lady. And received a scolding.

    1. Nashville may actually have a team before the Tigers get out from under Miggy’s contract.

  3. Nashville will have to build a private stadium because last I heard the city’s finances are bad and the mayor wasn’t enthusiastic about public funds. That is why I say the sport is in trouble despite all the talk of TV revenue and cable deals. Its because there is no Mayor Williams (Washington) of today. For 3 years Manfred talked about expansion. It was a call for a mayor to step up. No one answered the call. My prediction is that only Raleigh would consider public funds. Other mayors are not willing to play the waiting for Godot games for a sports that isn’t growing in place the don’t already have a team.

    1. Getting public stadium money is almost never easy — it took a decade for the Twins to get it, and for the Marlins. Sometimes you have to cycle through asking for it from the city, county, and state, sometimes you need to wait for one set of elected officials to leave and another to arrive. I’m not optimistic about the world running entirely out of Mayor Williamses.

  4. The obvious question with a prospective Nashville MLB team is “would they be a better home for the Rays than Tampa-St Pete (or Montreal if anyone still thinks that was a real thing)?”

    It is highly unlikely that a smallish market like Nashville will attract an owner willing to pay for an expansion franchise. MLB will require AT LEAST Cubs level fees (approx $1Bn) for entry, and possibly considerably more than that (the “middle ten” MLB franchise valuations c Forbes 2020 range from $1.3Bn to $1.85Bn… so why would any existing owner want to split national revenue for less than a midrange value expansion fee?).

    Add to this problem the fact that Nashville already has teams in two other major league sports and has just added a third pro franchise in a significantly smaller league. It also has other attractions, meaning competition for entertainment dollars.

    This seems more like a “Winnipeg Jets” situation to me… ownership is hoping a distressed (really no MLB franchise is distressed financially, given the business model) or just embarrassingly low revenue franchise will become available.

    It’s unlikely to net them a huge discount on a purchase price, but it might get them the Rays at a price where they could build a modest stadium privately and still come in under the $1.5Bn expansion price tag. I’m just not sure the Rays (as an example) in Nashville are a better financial bet than they are in their current location.

  5. I mean a team could work, it would have to be behind several cities who have better deals and lesser AAA franchises.

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