The 2 hour Nashville experience

Operating a 30,000 seat stadium—and everything that comes with it—can’t be easy.

Lighting, acoustics, tickets, gates, concessions, parking, landscaping, crowd behavior, and more. It’s a lot to handle.

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This week, I had a conversation with Scott Neal, Nashville SC’s Vice President for Operations. He’s the man in charge, amongst many other things, of making sure the game day experience goes off without bugs and in a way that doesn’t just allow each fan to have a great experience. He’s been charged by owner John Ingram and CEO Ian Ayre to create an experience that is “distinctly Nashville”.

While I initially began the conversation wanting to know what they’ve learned since the season began and what fine turning they have done to make the experience smoother, I left our talking knowing less about specific changes and details and more about the philosophy that is guiding Neal and his staff.

Neal has been part of the stadium project from the beginning, overseeing the entire construction process. And while he realizes that there is a difference between the stadium “in practice” and a stadium in theory, he believes the team was very successful with the design. Sure, it may have taken one or two games to understand how to help encourage the movement of bodies throughout the stadium in particular ways. But Neal thinks it works well. 

More importantly, he believes the stadium works hand in hand with the supporters to create not only an explosive atmosphere for the team, but also an atmosphere that breathes Nashville. That’s why it’s important that he’s not only been here since the beginning of the project but for the years prior as the team’s experiential philosophy was forming. 

Neal’s goal was simple in theory and difficult in practice. The experience of being at Geodis Park needed to be such that if someone came to town just to see a game and had no chance to go anywhere else in town, they would leave with a taste of Nashville.  That means Nashville food, Nashville beers, Nashville anthem singers, Nashville fans, Nashville art, and Nashville bands.

Neal asserts that the idea is to make the experience perfect every time. From the pyro to the noise to the food to the players on the pitch, Neal says he and the staff stressed persistently that they are there to give fans a friendly seamless, Nashville experience.

He acknowledges that they will never get it perfect, and he understands that there have been, and will continue to be, issues with things like parking. But he stresses that the team is working on solutions.

Some of the solutions for getting in and out are, of course, being worked on by the city, who are altering both Craighead, Benton, and Wedgewood roads to make getting in and out easier. 

Neal reports that the team is going to work on solutions to make getting in and out of the park easier. Part of that will be improved when the road work is complete. Part of it will come with more experience by those directing traffic, as well as those driving. 

For those fans who wonder at times if they are being listened to, Neal assures me that they are. Not only does the team conduct both formal and informal surveys to understand the fan experience but the club also (and wisely) monitors social media about the team. What are fans saying? What was liked and not liked? How can the club improve the experience? Those are the questions that he says drive the way they listen to feedback.

While we all want a perfect experience, it’s nice to think that someone is listening—and taking notes—when the experience fails to match up.

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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