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Nashville makes case for World Cup venue

In 2018, the United States — along with Mexico and Canada — was awarded the hosting rights to the 2026 World Cup by FIFA. It would mean the return of the World Cup to American soil for the first time since 1994, a gap of 32 years. While not all games would be played in the US, the bulk of them would be (and due to it being an expanded edition of the tournament there would still be more games played in the US than when solo hosted in 1994).

This lead to a wave of cities vying to host games. Certain cities or venues are almost assuredly locks (MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, AT&T Stadium in Dallas, and the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles all come to mind) some places need to do a little more to prove themselves for a variety of reasons. The official bid to FIFA consists of 17 potential host cities in the US (plus three in both Canada and Mexico). Of all the cities on that list, perhaps none has done a good of a job as Nashville in displaying their potential and stating their case to be a World Cup host city.

The biggest thing Nashville has done to prove they deserve to host World Cup games is generating sizable crowds for soccer games in the city. Dating back to 2015, they have drawn the following numbers:

7/3/15FriendlyUSA vs. Guatemala44,835
3/6/16She Believes CupUSWNT vs. France25,363
7/8/17Gold CupUSA vs. Panama47,622
7/29/17International Champions CupMan City vs. Spurs56,232
9/11/18FriendlyUSA vs. Mexico40,194
3/2/19She Believes CupUSWNT vs. England22,125
2/29/20MLSNashville vs. Atlanta59,069
9/5/21World Cup QualifyingUSA vs. Canada43,028

These crowds (plus a number of slightly smaller ones for Nashville SC since their addition to MLS) show that there is plenty of support for the beautiful game in Nashville. And while all of those games have been played at Nissan Stadium, the home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, Nashville SC is currently in the process of building the largest soccer-specific stadium in the country with a capacity expected to exceed 30,000. While too small to host World Cup games, it shows the commitment to building a legitimate soccer community (and to be fair to Nissan Stadium it is grass and seems to handle the football to soccer transition better than most other venues).

This most recent crowd of 43,028 against Canada in World Cup Qualifying was actually a little different as it was almost entirely a pro-US crowd that stood for the entire game. Even through a listless first half that saw the US only create two real chances and Canada create one, when the second half started the fans were still standing. A 56th minute goal sent them into delirium. But even when Canada equalized just a few minutes later, they still kept standing.

Another thing that Nashville has going for it is geography. It has a number of interstate highways running through it (I-65, I-40, and I-24) and is centrally located within the region making it an easy drive from just about anywhere in the southeastern United States.

Nathan Wolcott of Memphis, Tennessee says that Nashville’s location is a big reason it should be a World Cup host city.

“It’s a very centralized location” he said. “Selfishly, I hope that Nashville gets it because that’s just a three hour drive for me. That’d be awesome. It’s within a six hour drive of a bunch of places like Memphis, Birmingham, Louisville and St. Louis.”

In addition to featuring impressive soccer attendances and an ideal location within the region, another big plus for Nashville is that it has turned into a major entertainment destination. Downtown Nashville, and especially Broadway, have become synonymous with having an enjoyable time, with bars and restaurants, plenty of places to listen to live music, and a pedestrian bridge directly from Broadway across the river and into Nissan Stadium.

Alex Hall also drove up from Memphis and says that downtown Nashville could be a deciding factor in Nashville getting to host games. Hall has been to several other US games in Nashville: the 2018 friendly against Mexico and the 2017 Gold Cup game against Panama.

“There would probably be some sort of fan fest on Broadway and you’d get to hang out and party with all kinds of fans from Brazil or Germany or the Netherlands or Colombia. Whether you’re in the stadium or outside the stadium, as long as you are with other fans who love the game the way you do, that’s what’s important.”

READ MORE: Will the US ever win a men’s World Cup?

But while he’s on board with the potential party atmosphere he still has just a little bit of municipal rivalry that can be hard to set aside.

“Memphis doesn’t like Nashville. I’m a 901 FC supporter and we used to have a rivalry with Nashville before they went to MLS. I’m friends with a couple of their supporters now and at this point it’s Tennessee strong now though. At the end of the day, how many opportunities are there going to be to have the World Cup three hours away from me? One.”

With the final host cities expected to be named by the end of the year, there are not too many more chances for Nashville to make a case for itself to be included outside of the remaining MLS games for Nashville SC. But even without any other marquee events, the city of Nashville has made a strong case already. Between routinely drawing sizable crowds for the biggest games, its location within the region, and its label of being a party destination, there’s no reason to not play World Cup games in the Music City.

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  1. greg

    September 8, 2021 at 12:56 pm

    Oy, @JP Philly is not trash. I grew up there, it’s a great city. Has its problems like anywhere else, but certainly is not trash. It’s a great soccer city, great tourist attractions. The stadium that would host WC, the Eagles’ stadium, not Union’s, is easily reachable by public transport and car.

    As for midwest cities, St. Louis has long been a great soccer city. I can’t find the article I read years ago, but this sums it up:

    Outside of the Arch & riverboats, not a ton to rec St. Lou as a tourist spot.

    Again, the problem with Levi’s Stadium hosting the SF bid is it’s 40 miles from SF. So tourists will come here for the SF city experience then have to figure out how to get to the match. It’ll be great for the car rental economy I guess, but traffic sucks as is for any event at Levi’s. A keen bus company will be wise to jump at hosting charts to/from one or two drop-off/pick-up points in downtown SF.

  2. dave

    September 7, 2021 at 8:16 pm

    @Philip and @greg, hat tip on your knowledge of the NYC and SF areas. Most FIFA bids are listed by anchor city, with the exceptions being “New York/New Jersey” and “San Francisco Bay Area”
    @LawrenceDockery, thank you for the thoughtful OP. I have had a great time with this rabbit hole. Good luck with the selection announcements later this year

  3. dave

    September 7, 2021 at 7:51 pm

    FIFA show a one-page marketing summary for each candidate city. It is a fun way to see how they are positioning themselves. For the 13 US candidates seeking the remaining 7 spots, pitches strike me as angling to stand out on:
    * Diversity of metro area and potential attendees – Baltimore, Houston, Miami, DC
    * Passion for soccer and sports – Boston, Denver, KC
    * Easy travel for majority of the US – Cincy
    * Fun for tourists – Nashville (music), San Francisco (scenery, history, iconic views)
    * Excellent at handling large crowds for major events – Orlando
    * Environmental and health consciousness – Seattle
    * Large population, history (?) – nothing on Philadelphia’s jumped out at me
    Two factoids I would never have guessed:
    * “Today, Massachusetts is second only to California in registered football players, with a total of 242,000 athletes playing the game”
    * “[Kansas City] already ranking among the top five in the nation in youth football participation per capita, with more than 75,000 participants under the age of 15 . . . “

  4. JP

    September 7, 2021 at 6:21 pm

    @Mercator, I agree with most of what you’re saying…..except Philly is trash and Houston (based on what people have said for Superbowls) is not a great host city if you want to do more than just go to the stadium. Everything too far, etc. On the opposite end, nothing but great reviews for Indianapolis as a host city (everything close by). But alas, they’re not one of the cities in the running.

  5. Mercator

    September 7, 2021 at 5:31 pm

    @Dave – Thank you, good knowledge and not a city in the Midwest in sight on any of those metrics! The Midwest has no real major global cities outside of Chicago, so there is no reason to have a midwestern city included if Chicago is not available. I don’t mean to bash the Midwest, I just get annoyed when people act like that’s the heartland or “real” America. Real America is a suburb in Texas or Florida, statistically. No one wants to fly in from Brazil, India, China or France to go to Kansas City or Columbus to watch a game. I’m sorry if that truth hurts, but I know far to many Europeans planning a trip if their country plays in Cali, FL or the Northeast, and otherwise not really planning to attend.

    Of course US soccer is going to get it wrong, they can’t even sell out US matches in some of these second rate cities. They are using MLS attendance to gauge interest in a world cup? Why? This is a Super Bowl like event for every host city and you are looking at what a few thousand fans in Nashville or Columbus are doing at MLS games? I don’t mean to rant but the stadium was half empty in Nashville, why on earth would we give them one of 11 slots to host when we have a dozen ready and willing Tier 1 Global cities available? The 2026 World Cup has Atlanta 96 Monster Trucks written all over it again – trying to show off the “real” America and just embarrassing the country in the process.

    The 12 cities should be obvious, the hard part is cutting one: Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, NYC, Boston, Philly and DC. I think Philly or Houston are probably top of the list to be cut, and both cities are a league above the other cities in discussion here.

  6. dave

    September 7, 2021 at 3:52 pm

    This is a fun topic. I want to build on the @Mercator criteria of city size and tourist appeal. Certainly a factor that will drive decisions
    Below are data on top-10 US cities based on MSA population, total tourism (foreign plus domestic), and foreign tourism. The debate over which cities “should” classify to which MSA will never be settled, and I used each source’s classifications “as is”. Take it in the spirit of directional evidence for discussion
    * Top 10 MSA (population, highest to lowest) – NYC, LA, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, DC, Philly, Miami, Atlanta, Boston
    * Top 10 Tourism (domestic plus foreign, highest to lowest) – NYC, Chicago, Atlanta, Orange County, Orlando, LA, Las Vegas, Philly, San Diego, San Francisco
    * Top 10 Tourism (foreign, highest to lowest) – NYC, Miami, LA, Orlando, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Honolulu, DC, Boston, Chicago
    * Ranks of other candidate site MSA population – San Francisco (12), Seattle (15), Denver (19), Baltimore (20), Orlando (22), Cincy (30), KC (31), Nashville (32)
    * Ranks of other candidate site MSA foreign tourism (only if top 30) – Houston (13), Seattle (14), Atlanta (16), Philly (18), Dallas (19), Denver (26)
    These data are encouraging for Boston/Foxboro – #10 on population, NR on total tourism, #9 on foreign tourism
    These data align with an argument for SF/Levi – #12 on population, #10 on total tourism, and #5 on foreign tourism
    These data are (to me) surprisingly negative for Denver – #19 on population, NR on total tourism, #26 on foreign tourism
    I knew the mouse was a big draw, but I had no idea Orlando gets so many tourists. I find it interesting that commenters and even some bid cities assume FIFA and US Soccer will make a mess of the venue selections

  7. Mercator

    September 7, 2021 at 1:19 pm

    Levi Stadium is the stadium in the San Francisco bid. It’s perfectly fine, outside of NYC there are no major cities with excellent public transportation, and even including NYC none of the stadiums are going to be easily reachable by public transport. Every city will sort something out, the important thing is making SF a host. America should put on it’s best performance – World Cup Fan Zone’s in the park in front of Gate Bridge bridge for example, not at a parking lot in Kansas City. World Cups are 80% tourism anyway, cities like SF are infinitely more equipped to provide a good experience for tourists compared to random cities in the Midwest.

    FWIW, Fedex in DC is not in DC, it’s in Maryland. Metlife is in Jersey with no real direct transport to NYC. Boston, suburbs. Miami stadium is in Miami Gardens, nothing around Hardrock. Seattle, Houston, Atlanta all have light rail to the stadiums, which is about as good as you are going to get. It’s a global tournament. Pick global cities, not Cincinnati.

  8. greg

    September 7, 2021 at 12:45 pm

    FWIW, the San Francisco match likely won’t be in SF proper. I doubt the Giants will allow matches during baseball season and that’s the only SF stadium.

    The only other places would be the 49ers stadium in Santa Clara, about 40 miles from downtown SF and a public transport & car traffic nightmare or the Stanford Stadium, also about 40 miles from downtown SF but at least a bit easier to get to by train. Good thinking would be UC Berkeley’s stadium, much closer to SF, easily reachable from all over the area by the BART subway.

    Knowing FIFA & US Soccer’s lack of thought they’ll go with the 49ers stadium.

  9. Mercator

    September 7, 2021 at 10:24 am

    Why is there a need to put anything in the midwest? Chicago pulled out, there isn’t another midwestern city that should be in the running. US Soccer always makes a clown show of putting games in second tier cities, charging NFL prices and then not selling out, like Nashville. With all due respect to the midwest, most foreign fans do not want to come to see Cincinnati or Kansas City. They want to go to Miami, New York, California, etc. Put the games in the biggest metros, with the biggest venues, with the most hotels, flights and amenities, and then get out of the way. Do not overthink this.

    1. Denver
    2. Los Angeles
    3. San Francisco
    4. Seattle
    5. Dallas
    6. Houston
    7. Atlanta
    8. Miami
    9. NYC
    10. Boston
    11. Philly or DC

  10. JP

    September 7, 2021 at 8:56 am

    @dave, nice follow up information. Based on your research and both our gut feelings, seems Cincinnati has the least chance of all. However, there is a glaring lack of Midwest presence in the potential host cities. If only one of Denver and KC gets chosen and KC is sacrificed, they may be forced to go with a Cincy. Choosing Nashville could be a way to avoid that. But if they go with both Nashville and Atlanta, Orlando’s chances seemingly vanish I think.

  11. dave

    September 6, 2021 at 9:43 pm

    @JP, a few addenda from wikipedia, so take with a grain of salt:
    * Opening match to be Azteca or Rose Bowl
    * Opening day to have a game in all 3 host countries
    * Final match to be NY/NJ/MetLife
    * Semifinals to be split between Dallas/ATT and Atlanta
    * Mexico and Canada each to host 10 games – 7 group, 2 R32, 1 R16
    * US cities host the balance of the games, including all quarterfinals
    * Vancouver, Minneapolis, and Chicago opted out due to lack of FIFA transparency
    * Montreal backed out due to loss of financing from Quebec province
    If you believe wikipedia, the answer to “could Nashville knock out Atlanta?” is “no”

  12. dave

    September 6, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    @JP, that is an interesting question that spurred a little research. My initial thought was that marquee venues would be Rose Bowl, Azteca, and BC Place, with Soldier Field, Jerry World, and Meadowlands being strong secondary US venues. Imagine my surprise to see Soldier Field and BC Place pulled their bids long ago
    I read that Canada (Toronto/BMO and Edmonton) and Mexico (Azteca, Chivas, and Monterrey) more or less locked in their contracted number of venues leaving a need to select 11 US venues from a list of 17 remaining candidates
    My gut sense is LA/Rose Bowl, Dallas/ATT, and NY/NJ/MetLife are locks. I suspect Seattle and Boston/Foxboro for reasons including temperature and proximity to key Canadian markets. Houston and Miami are big metro areas with large Hispanic populations and nonstop flights to much of the world. I think Hard Rock is outdoor only which could be brutal on a summer mid-day (but is Orlando any better?)
    Your rankings add Atlanta, KC, Denver, and DC as the final 4. As good a guess as any. Your logic that Boston and DC might not both make the cut seems sensible and SF could be a time-zone balancing replacement (with low summer temperatures) for one of those. Could Nashville knock out Atlanta? Might only one of KC and Denver be added?
    Fun exercise and I learned a fair bit about the stadiums and bids in the process. Thanks for tossing this one around

  13. Azer

    September 6, 2021 at 2:29 pm

    How exactly will fans get around in the US Cities with the lack of public transportation. I understand there is Uber & Lyft but this is a concern in my opinion. You can rent a car but how many will do that? Unless you are in New York & Chicago, forget about getting around. Nashville for example is not like Amsterdam or Frankfurt where there is a train & bus outside your hotel. I wasn’t here in 1994 so I don’t know. Lets not forget about crime in American cities compared to Europe.

  14. JP

    September 6, 2021 at 11:48 am

    So looks like only 16 cities will be allowed to host, how do you handicap Boston’s (actually Foxboro’s) chances of hosting again? Lot of potential cities located in the region, including Toronto and Montreal in Canada. While Boston, NY, and DC all hosted in 1994, there is more competition this time around.

    Here are my locks in no particular order
    1. LA
    2. Seattle
    3. Dallas
    4. Mexico City
    5. Miami
    6. Atlanta
    7. New Jersey
    8. Toronto
    9. Kansas City (mainly geography)
    10. Denver
    11. DC

    That leaves room for 5 more, and assuming Canada and Mexico get at least 2 cities each, only 3 more US host cities. Nashville, Houston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Boston, San Francisco, Orlando, and Cincinnati all vying…

    Baltimore likely out given the proximity to DC (and Philadelphia because of New Jersey??)

    Also odd Chicago and Charlotte aren’t potential hosts, or Minneapolis/St Paul for that matter.

  15. Philip James Palma

    September 6, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Met Life Stadium is in New Jersey, not New York.

    • Christopher Harris

      September 6, 2021 at 11:08 am

      Even though the stadium is in New Jersey, many people think of it as being in New York given the New York Giants, Metrostars, Cosmos and other teams that have played there.

      But you are correct Philip.

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