Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber spent the majority of this week in Nashville. Alongside Nashville SC majority owner John Ingram and CEO Ian Ayre, the commissioner toured the club’s new 30,000 seat stadium at the Fairgrounds, set to open in May 2022.
“The first impression is it’s really large,” Commissioner Garber told Broadway Sports in a phone interview. “It will be the largest soccer specific stadium in Major League Soccer. It’s in a reimagined, historic part of the city and you can begin to see the new vision come to life. Not just with the stadium as the anchor for future development, but all the things that were part of the original plan; the development around the stadium, the affordable housing, the terrific commitment to minority owned businesses that are part of the construction and design plan… all of it is just terrific.”
Garber, who has served as MLS Commissioner since 1999, has seen the league move from playing in leased NFL stadiums to clubs building and owning their own soccer-specific stadium. Nashville’s new venue will be the 20th soccer-specific stadium in the league, and Garber says he’s excited for the boost the new building will bring to the club.
“Every team deserves to have a great cathedral for its fans and a place for their players to feel like they’re home,” he said. “That’s what’s going to happen next spring for Nashville SC, and I think the best of that team’s opportunity is still to come. Sometimes it takes a while for a stadium to be equally embedded in the community. It will take sometime for the project at the Fairgrounds to be fulfilled. But without doubt this is going to set Nashville SC up for great opportunities for years to come.”
In addition to Nashville SC’s successful entry into MLS, the city of Nashville is becoming a more regular destination for international soccer. The Mexican national team played in front of over 30,000 fans at Nissan Stadium in June, and Nashville will host the U.S. Men’s National Team‘s World Cup qualifier against Canada in September. Garber knows how important these matches can be for soccer in a city.
“MLS wouldn’t be in Nashville if it wasn’t for the CONCACAF events and the international friendlies that have been played in the city,” he pointed out. “Soccer isn’t a linear sport, though. It’s very global. And it has so many aspects to it, whether it’s national team play or international competition like CONCACAF events or even serving as a World Cup venue in 2026. All those things create a soccer brand for the city.”
With the U.S. set to host the 2026 World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico, Garber says he’s optimistic about the potential for MLS to grow, as well as Nashville’s chances of becoming a host city.
“The World Cup is a great moment for our sport to come together, and a great opportunity for the US, Canada and Mexico to show that we can be the centerpiece for the sport globally. So many great cities bidding for the world cup that have great offerings, and Nashville certainly has a great offering. As I said while I was at the stadium, I look forward to seeing all the work they do to put their best foot forward so Nashville can be a World Cup host city.”
With five years to go before the most watched sporting event across the globe lands in North America, Garber knows what an opportunity MLS has in front of it.
“We have a special opportunity in a special situation where we know exactly where the sport of soccer in our country will be five years from now,” the Commissioner concluded. “The biggest sporting event in the World will be held in our country, as well as in Canada and our southern neighbors in Mexico. All of our clubs, certainly the league, is working hard on plans for our entire enterprise to ensure that we’ll be a big part of the World Cup experience, and building value for our players and our clubs when the World Cup is here in 2026.”