While things have been coming together on schedule for NSC in regards to the roster, that’s not quite true for all areas heading into the club's first Major League Soccer season. As reported by Sam Stejskal of The Athletic (who is currently reporting from the MLS Board of Governors meetings) ticket sales are currently lagging behind both NSC and League estimates for this point in 2019. From Stejskal (his full story can be found here):
“Incoming expansion club Nashville SC have only sold around 5,000 season tickets for 2020, according to multiple sources. That number lags well behind the pace set by recent expansion clubs Atlanta, Minnesota, LAFC and FC Cincinnati. The number also trails fellow 2020 newcomer Inter Miami, which, according to a source, has sold significantly more than 5,000 season tickets for their inaugural season.”
Anyone who is running the numbers on this shouldn’t be shocked. Each time it’s come up in conversation at a Nashville SC event, the number we’ve landed on has been somewhere in the ballpark of 5,000. So while I don’t think anyone at home should be surprised, it still isn’t great to read it in The Athletic written by a journalist as reputable as Stejskal.
If I had to attach a word to how I feel about the report (which is kind of my job in writing this article) I’d probably say sobering. As I talked over the report with the buddy who first sent it over to me, he had what I thought was a really great quote “no one is coming to save us”. That struck me in an odd way. He’s 100% right. The club is here. The big leagues are here. The things fans have waited on to turn the tide have arrived, and the tide apparently hasn’t turned yet. At this point it rests squarely on the club to make it work. While there are plenty of unsubstantiated rumors flying around in most of the forums dedicated to NSC, I’m going to steer clear of those. I think some are probably more true than others, but the fact is we can’t confirm any of them. So I’d rather just talk about a few things that we do know. The only rumor I’ll touch on is the one regarding Inter Miami’s ticket sales. I simply cannot trust anything that comes from a club that has said they’ve had a coach for three months but hasn’t announced him five weeks before players report. Meanwhile, if you go on to Inter Miami’s website you can’t even buy a ticket. You can reserve one with a deposit, but that’s it. Anyone can pay $20 with no intention of paying another $400 down the line. So while I won’t compare Nashville to Inter Miami, I will compare Nashville to Nashville.
While we haven’t gotten an official comment from the club, there are rumblings that the number is actually higher. So again, I say lets operate off of what we actually know. We know that the club sold 6100 tickets in its inaugural season of USL play, and that the club failed to reach that number in it’s second season. So the reported number of 5000 isn’t only a low number, it’s roughly 1000 tickets less than Nashville sold in their inaugural season in the second division. Not only are they currently lagging behind the targets the league has set for them, we’re not beating what we’ve already done IN A MINOR LEAGUE. Probably the more concerning thing is that just crunching the numbers, those 5000 tickets sold are the diehards. They are the people who were there against Atlanta United in the pouring rain two years ago. They are the people who were bought in from day one. So it leads you to believe that after two years of USL play with an average match attendance of 8280 (over the two seasons), not only has the club failed to convert those two to three thousand single match ticket holders into season ticket holders, they’ve perhaps lost some of the people who were already in the season ticket fold. I don’t see how that can be spun positively. It would look like there’s been no forward momentum in the way of ticket sales.
On top of that, there has been an exodus of both marketing and ticketing staff from NSC headquarters. Whether this was voluntary or forced appears to be a mixed bag. As far as what an outsider’s response to this should be, I really don’t know. Was the aforementioned lack of momentum a result of poor job performance by people no longer employed by the club? Were they stymied from something that worked in year one, and that resulted in astep back in year two? I just don’t know. More plainly I don’t know where you find an objective take on what actually went down. No matter the reason, there has been turn over. Stejksal says in the piece: “While there is some concern at the league office, one of the sources said that Nashville are not overly worried about the pace of their season ticket sales. The source noted that Nashville is a city that is traditionally late to the market when it comes to buying tickets for sports and other events.”. From the outside looking in, turnover in both ticketing and marketing departments is not the hallmark of a club that isn’t worried.
At Speedway, we’ve tried to make it a point to not be needlessly reactionary. Not to get all scriptural on you (my undergrad was in religion after all) but a pretty smart dude once said “who of you by worrying can add a single day to your life?” That being said, this is a concerning report. I’ll be frank, there have been expansion teams in this country that have failed. Some have failed in this league. This isn’t an “if you build it they will come scenario”. People aren’t just going to show up out of the blue. To quote my buddy again “no one is coming to save us”. While I make it a general rule in my life to not mention a problem without a solution, the truth is I’m not a marketing expert. But, in sports there is always one solution that trumps all others. Winning. Even the pious Preds fans would have to admit their Stanley Cup Final run was the height of Preds fandom, there isn’t quite as much sparkle languishing through the early half of the season in the middle of an average division. On the flip side, Titans fans have gone from wanting to fire literally everyone, to beating their chests and claiming they’ll sell out Nissan Sunday for the showdown with the Texans.
I don’t know what you do marketing wise for the next three months to turn the tide, but if you put a team that competes on the field, the tide will turn itself. Nashville kicks off its debut season in 85 days. No pressure.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Nashville SC declined our request for public comment.