In announcing the Major League Soccer franchise on Wednesday, there was a moment when Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and Gov. Bill Haslam insisted on posing for photos and answering questions together.
It was a somewhat unusual arrangement, yet there was no denying that their broad collaboration factored into the MLS decision.
League Commissioner Don Garber was frank that Nashville stood little chance of earning a franchise as of a year ago. But he said local and state officials, business leaders, and even the existing pro sports teams were united.
“As we started to learn more, we became not only intrigued, but really excited about this city — its passion for sports and for culture, its great ability to forge strong and meaningful public-private partnerships,” Garber said, adding later: “There’s a positive energy that I don’t see many places. And you can feel it.”
While officials often tout “public-private partnerships,” Garber put some meat to the claim. He cited meetings with officials at multiple levels of government, and an attention-grabbing push by several members of the ownership group.
Much of that group is local, and they easily gush about Nashville. But an out-of-towner in the group also took note: Mark Wilf, of the family behind the Minnesota Vikings, described a kind of Nashville x-factor.
“It’s a young, vibrant, growing city, and we saw with the Preds and the Titans what a great major league city this is,” Wilf said. “Nashville’s on the way up, all the way.”
Addressing Wilf from the stage, the governor offered a playful welcome.
“I know that Minnesota’s nice, but you haven’t seen anything yet. You’re going to love being a part of Nashville and of Tennessee,” Haslam said.
Mayor Megan Barry thanked the league for “taking a close look at Nashville and seeing what we see — it’s definitely Music City, but we are also a soccer city.”
And lead owner John Ingram said that landing the MLS bid in one year's time might not have been possible elsewhere. “Together, we've accomplished in one year what might take other places two, three or more [years] to do.”
Of course, there is still work to come.
Nobody can say how soon the MLS team will play, and the $275-million stadium plan has some staunch opponents. The team’s success could fall back to the locals, who have the task of living up to the hype — and showing up for games.
“He’s got some work to do,” Garber said of Ingram. “He’s up to it, though.”