What’s a soccer fan in Nashville, Tennessee to do after their local team folds?
Chris Jones, Robby Johnston, and many other Nashville-based supporters of the beautiful game found themselves asking that question after the Nashville Metros ceased operations in 2012. The Metros had been founded back in 1989 and could be found playing in the United Soccer League’s (USL) Premier Development League before ceasing to exist after their 2012 season.
Chris Jones, however, was dreaming of a 100 percent supporter owned club in Nashville as early as 2008. It was only after the Metros folded that Jones started having serious discussions with Johnston (and many others) about actually organizing such a club. Jones doesn’t have an official title yet, but he has taken up a lot of the day-to-day duties for Nashville FC. He operates the club’s website and social media and is actively trying to help the team establish itself within the greater Nashville community first and foremost.
“Our first goal was to establish a close relationship with the community, youth programs, & charities. We feel we have laid a solid foundation with some local soccer associations, both adult and youth, along with partnerships with Autism Speaks & Autism Society of Middle Tenn to provide soccer camps with those children with Autism.”, said Jones.
Despite the amount of work he puts in, you’ll always find Jones, who also runs a sports-themed website called Has Been Sports, using the word “we” quite a bit. He and the other founding members are quite serious about their intentions of turning Nashville FC into a 100 percent supporter owned, semi-professional soccer team. He has looked to other similarly organized sports teams for inspiration and advice.
“We have been in contact with multiple teams/clubs with supporter group founding such as FC United of Manchester, Darlington FC, Sons of Ben (Philadelphia Union Supporters group), Memphis RedBirds (Triple A baseball team) and even Birmingham Hammers an upstart like ourselves (minus supporter ownership).”
FC United of Manchester is a semi-professional team that was created by Manchester United supporters who are more than displeased with the way the Glazer family took over the club in 2005. Darlington FC, now known as Darlington 1883, was dissolved in 2012 after they bankrupted themselves trying to fund a new arena in 2003. Out of the ashes rose Darlington 1883, whose ownership breakdown is 52% Darlington Football Club Community Interest Company (DFCCIC), who represent around 800 fan-members, 15% Darlington 1883 Supporter’s Club, and 33% from 28 individual fans. These two teams in particular represent exactly what Nashville FC is trying to accomplish.
The team has only been organized for about two months, so Jones declined to mention the exact number of members at this time but says it is “strong” given the short time frame. A visit to http://www.nashvillefc.net/ will show that there are two options available for anyone interested in helping create the team. A basic “Member” will receive a vote on all major decisions for the club as well as a free Nashville FC supporters t-shirt. Those who wish to be considered a “Founder” receive a vote as well as free admission to all regular season home games and a very limited edition Nashville FC founders scarf. Only 150 of those scarves have been produced.
Although the club has “existed” for such a short amount of time, Jones and the other founding members have already made significant strides to help grow their visibility in the community. According to Jones, the club has already reached an agreement with “an international brand for soccer uniforms” and they are currently “in talks with some possible local corporate sponsors and once those are made official, things will pick up speed quickly”.
As far as on the field concerns go, Jones says, “It will be a mix of invites, tryouts, etc. We have already had numerous requests sent in for both player and coach positions, so that is promising.”
He also mentioned that there are several playing venues interested, each with its own pros and cons, but more information is still being gathered on that front. The same holds true when it comes to finding a league to play in, although he seems pretty sure it will come to down either the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) or the USL Premier Development League (PDL) that was home to the Metros. The NPSL is very much a geographically organized league with over 50 teams broken up into four regions: Northeast, South, Midwest, and West. This allows teams to play regular season games against the teams closest to them, thus cutting down heavily on travel costs. The USL PDL has a bit more prestige as it houses the U-23 squads for several Major League Soccer (MLS) teams and USL Pro’s Orlando City. USL PDL teams have also had some success in recent US Open Cup tournaments.
Debating which league to join ultimately brings up the fact that the United States Soccer Federation does not currently use the concepts of promotion and relegation between its various levels of play from MLS at the top all the way down to the NPSL and USL PDL. Jones says he would love to see it instituted one day down the road.
“Personally, I would love to see it. I think the recent success of the upper tiers (North American Soccer League & USL Pro) against the MLS make a strong case for it. However, you are going to be hard pressed to find a MLS owner/ownership group willing to concede the possibility of not playing in the top US league. These men and women are about the business and to be relegated is to lose money and sponsorships.”, he says.
While it certainly sounds appealing, immediate promotion may not necessarily be the best thing for a club like Nashville FC ; or even clubs more established than them for that matter.
“It’s not without reason to have a scenario under promotion/relegation where a team in the NASL or USL Pro has a tremendous year, wins a ton of games, but also has weak financial owners relative to those in MLS right now. Having said that, until we do have a promotion/relegation system in place, I don’t think we can say soccer in the US has arrived.”
Jones’s first concern, however, is to get Nashville FC off the ground regardless of where they play and start putting Middle Tennessee soccer on the map. He feels the best way to do that is to simply let the supporters themselves run the team and vote on all major decisions.
“We will have a supporter elected board that will gather and present pressing topics for vote. By doing it this way, we do not rely upon a majority owner and always have a large passionate group that not only wants to grow the club but, the Nashville & Middle Tennessee soccer community.”
His enthusiasm for the cause is absolutely infectious and if his vision comes to fruition, Nashville soccer supporters will have pulled off a truly historic accomplishment that will earn a place in the annals of US soccer history.
If you’d like more information about how to become a member or simply donate to the club, you can visit www.NashvilleFC.net