Does Nashville SC have a marketing problem?

There are multiple ways to measure success for any endeavor.  Indeed, there is something of a public relations art to highlight organization “success” using one’s own metric, and thereby obscuring weaknesses or outright failures.

Currently, Nashville SC are quite rightly able to claim to be a successful organization and club based on their extraordinary success on the pitch in their first two years of existence. Additionally, before even moving into their new stadium, they’ve sold around 20,000 season tickets.

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Both of these achievements are highly praiseworthy. Few clubs have done this well on the pitch in the first two seasons and our ticket sales are clearly going to be among the top percentiles in MLS this season. 

Kudos are deserved. 

And yet there are cracks elsewhere that we are only beginning to talk about.

Earlier this week, on his show on 104.5, Buck Reising seemed mystified by how the club is marketing the new season. As he sees it, they’ve done a good job of promoting the opening of the new stadium but a far lesser one of promoting the season starting.

How many random Nashvillians, one wonders, know when the MLS season begins? How many actually know when the new stadium opens?

Yes, all of us die hard and invested fans are all over this. We’ve looked over the schedule; we’ve planned travel; we’ve told friends when we need to be home in Nashville. We’re primed and ready.

But others? I’m not so sure.

Try an experiment one of my colleagues had me attempt. Ask 10 random people in your life (i.e., not fellow soccer-heads but also not folks who stay away from sports) when the season starts. Even with the start only a few days away, my guess is that you’ll find very, very few who do.

When the Predators first came to town, I had absolutely zero interest in hockey. Indeed, I thought it was going to be a colossal blunder to bring a hockey team to Nashville. Even when the first season began, I wasn’t interested in going.

That said, you know what I did know? I knew the exact date that the season started? I knew about the packets of tickets I could buy for the season. I knew a handful of cool metaphors I could use to understand the game. And I knew, by the time the season began, that it was Nashville’s team, that we all knew what it was and when it was whether or not we were ready to jump in.

I don’t feel that with Nashville SC.

Am I excited? You bet your ass I am (to quote a Backline tailgate song). Am I tired of trying to educate my friends about when the season starts and what the team is? Heck yeah. 

The other night, I had a difficult time convincing the guy sitting next to me at my local bar (within walking distance of the new stadium, too) that this season wasn’t the team’s first season. A Lyft driver I spoke with last week didn’t know Nashville had a soccer team, much less one that had made the playoffs its first two seasons.

Last week, I suggested that those of us who are die hards should pledge to buy a free ticket for a friend who was, at best, soccer curious. The experience of just going once, I argued, would make many of them return for more. 

The first time, as they say, is always free.

I asked us, the fans, to put that part of the burden on us, not the club.

And yet, I don’t want it to sound like the club couldn’t be doing more to “educate” the public about soccer, about the league, about the team.

Selling 20,000 season tickets is a massive success, an extraordinary accomplishment in a city with so many other distractions. And yet, I fear that those 20k make up the soccer knowledgeable public and, after that, unlike with the Predators, the drop off in knowledge is precipitous.

Grant you, I don’t have numbers to back this up, only my own experience, and my experience of asking others. I just know that I expected a rollout closer to what the Predators did way back when to help build a solid, dedicated fan base that was weathered and ready when the team finally started being consistently successful on the idea. 

Success will clearly put butts in seats. But it is the dedication and love for a team by a large portion of the general public that keeps them there through thick and thin.

I think it’s time to wonder if enough is being done to educate and lure that larger base. 

The fans will do their part; I can guarantee you that. The club could do a little more.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of Broadway Sports Media.

Author: John Sloopgrew up in Asheville, NC, and after forays to Georgia and Iowa, found his way to Nashville over 25 years ago. On a trip to Portland, Oregon, 15 years ago, he watched the (then) USL Portland Timbers youth squad play one afternoon and fell completely and totally in love with soccer, to the detriment of his love of all other sports. In addition to thinking, writing, watching, and talking about soccer, Sloop teaches media and rhetoric at Vanderbilt. He is currently serving as the Chair of the Board of the Belcourt Theater and is part of the team that runs Tenx9 Nashville, a monthly story telling event.

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