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 York, 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:
|7/3/15||Friendly||USA vs. Guatemala||44,835|
|3/6/16||She Believes Cup||USWNT vs. France||25,363|
|7/8/17||Gold Cup||USA vs. Panama||47,622|
|7/29/17||International Champions Cup||Man City vs. Spurs||56,232|
|9/11/18||Friendly||USA vs. Mexico||40,194|
|3/2/19||She Believes Cup||USWNT vs. England||22,125|
|2/29/20||MLS||Nashville vs. Atlanta||59,069|
|9/5/21||World Cup Qualifying||USA vs. Canada||43,028|
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.”
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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.
Author: Lawrence Dockery