Summer Plans: The state of Nashville SC’s budget heading into the summer transfer season

This is a two-part series with a follow up article tomorrow. Today, I lay out where Nashville SC’s budget stands as of the close of the Primary Transfer Window. Tomorrow, I will detail a few moves that Nashville should make this summer without sacrificing long-term flexibility. 

Major League Soccer’s Primary Transfer Window closed yesterday with very little late action around the league. The transfer window opens back up starting July 7. Nashville will utilize June’s closed window to evaluate targets and negotiate transfers. They can even sign a foreign player during June, but the club just cannot officially register an international transfer until the transfer window reopens in July. 

With only four matches scheduled before the window reopens, Nashville will spend the international break cementing its transfer plans for the summer. Overall, General Manager Mike Jacobs positioned Nashville’s roster and salary budget with plenty of room to add talent this summer. With last week’s announcement of a season-long loan of defender Jack Maher, Jacobs’ holds two open roster slots and stockpile of allocation money.

The math of Nashville’s roster

As a warning, I approximated the numbers in this article! Do not take any of the figures as gospel. 

MLS poorly maintains accurate roster designations and purposely withholds information about how clubs use their allocation money to buy down salary charges. Beyond use of allocation money, the league fails to always disclose transfer fees. For example, neither the league nor Nashville SC disclosed the fee paid to Deportivo Saprissa for Randall Leal back in 2019. Without knowing the transfer fee, we do not know exactly how much Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) would be required to potentially buy down Leal’s salary below the maximum budget charge of $612,500. 

Previous forewarning aside, I have tracked every transaction in Nashville SC’s history and have constructed what I believe to be a fairly accurate picture of where the club stands in terms of its General Allocation Money (GAM) and TAM stockpiles. My best guess is that Nashville SC holds roughly $2.1 million in allocation money, primarily composed of unused GAM. Nashville’s front office built up these reserves largely based on two key offseason moves. 

First, the club acquired $700,000 GAM over the winter by trading away International Spots. Nashville worked quickly over the last year to secure green cards for its foreign-born players and flipped the open International Spots for GAM in return. 

Second, Nashville secured loan deals for both David Accam and Miguel Nazarit. By sending the pair abroad, Mike Jacobs shed their hefty salaries from Nashville’s MLS salary cap figure. While ownership will still be on the hook for some portion of their salaries depending on the loan terms, neither Accam nor Nazarit will count against Nashville’s cap. These loan moves saved the club just over $770,000 in required TAM to buy down their budget charges. 

Chris Ivey-Broadway Sports

The sizeable stockpile of allocation money provides Mike Jacobs a lot of flexibility heading into the Secondary Transfer Window.

Let’s get the striker question out of the way

The biggest question facing the club over the next few weeks is whether to exercise striker Jhonder Cádiz’s purchase option. I have discussed this decision ad nauseum since the start of the season.

It is an important decision for the club, but it is a decision that will not significantly alter Nashville’s salary cap outlook. If Nashville declines to purchase Cádiz, the club will quickly move to purchase a new Designated Player (DP) striker. Since Cádiz occupies a DP slot, a new DP signing would operate as a like-for-like budget swap. 

But DP purchases are not made in a vacuum. A shiny new striker may not affect the salary cap, but it would put in a significant dent in any transfer funds made available by ownership.

Ownership’s willingness to spend

Club owner John Ingram spent a lot of money over the last year. He took on an additional $54 million in stadium infrastructure and lease payment costs in a revised deal with the city.

Just one month later, the global pandemic shut down sports leagues. Until last month, attendance limitations restricted matchday revenue delivering another blow to Ingram’s pocketbook.

Casey Gower-Broadway Sports

I will never shed a tear for billionaires temporarily losing money. However, I am not naïve enough to pretend that the financial impacts of 2020 might alter Nashville’s transfer plans. 

But there is a comment that club CEO Ian Ayre made over two years ago, in a February 2019 episode of MLS Extratime, that is forever burned into the back of my mind.

“We would expect to be in the upper quarter of MLS in terms of investment in the squad. [John Ingram] wants to build a team to compete, not just to take part. We’re not going to assemble just an average roster, but a roster that can deliver in every sense on the pitch, a team that can have a real go, that our fans can get excited about.”

Ian Ayre on MLS’s Extratime podcast (February 22, 2019)

If Ingram and Ayre measure their spending targets against other MLS clubs, they must have noticed the recent transfers across the league.  The global pandemic affected the bottom lines of a lot of soccer clubs. But the show must go on. In just the last few months, MLS teams splashed the cash on significant transfer fees for young talent.

If Ayre was not blowing smoke about spending in the upper quarter of MLS clubs, the benchmark has been set for Nashville to match. Mike Jacobs built a playoff team without spending a fortune. But if Nashville wants to truly compete for trophies, it needs the horses that can go the distance. 

Tomorrow, I will bring you the second part of the Summer Plans series detailing a few moves that Nashville should make this summer that will add those horses, create roster spot flexibility, and maintain the significant reserves of allocation money.

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