“We’re on the fence”: Butch Spyridon on Nashville’s World Cup chances

In just two days, FIFA will announce the host cities for the 2026 World Cup. Soccer’s international governing body will select from 22 candidates across the United States, Canada and Mexico in a televised event on Thursday evening. Nashville is one of the cities vying to make the cut.

Despite being just over 48 hours from learning the result of more than a decade of work, Butch Spyridon, President and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation, has no idea which way the decision will go.

“FIFA has been as tight-lipped as anything I have ever seen, witnessed, worked on, collaborated with, so I don’t have a good read,” he told Broadway Sports Media via phone on Tuesday morning. “I do, however, feel exceptionally good about our proposal, our site visit, our facilities. I don’t think we could have done any better. I would say that if they don’t select this town, it would be a missed opportunity. For them.”

Nashville’s bid to host World Cup matches began all the way back in 2009. The United States lost the bid to host the 2022 World Cup to Qatar amid numerous allegations of corruption and human rights violations. Nashville would have been a host in 2022. Despite significant growth as a city in the following 13 years, they’re not a sure thing now.

“We are 10 times the destination today than we were back then when we made the cut,” said Spyridon. “The biggest difference is the US knows us, US soccer knows us. They know our capability of hosting. They know our campus and the compact nature of the footprint. They know the entertainment and the geographic location. They get it.”

Nashville has the US Men’s and Women’s national teams 13 times since 2009, most recently in September of 2021. Those games have built a familiarity and a trust with US Soccer that has helped the city tremendously in their World Cup bid. The biggest question is convincing FIFA, and organization with whom they’re less familiar.

“Because their staff is literally all over the world, they don’t really know us in the soccer world as much,” Spyridon admitted. “So I get that. But we’re way better off today as a host city than we were back then.”

A new Titans stadium in the works has raised questions about the bid. While the idea of a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium is enticing, the new facility isn’t slated to open until mid-2026, right when the World Cup is set to begin. For FIFA, the unknowns surrounding the construction are a big hurdle.

“The potential to have a new stadium could be a net positive. But the timing of them having to make a decisions when we haven’t gotten approval yet has raised more questions than answers, and I totally get that,” Spyridon said. “If we could have picked the timing, we would have done it a little bit different. That’s not an excuse, it just is what it is.”

Spyridon says that Nashville is leaving their World Cup bid with Nissan Stadium. They’ll continue to maintain the existing building to match the NFL’s standards, which he says will leave it “the same or better than it is now.” Nashville has also already agreed to some specific modifications for FIFA should they be selected to host, such as pushing back the walls near the corners of the field, providing covering for outdoor media, and more.

“They had a lot of questions. I feel like we answered all of their questions and then some,” he said. “If everything gets done, we’ll have a secondary conversation in a couple years about if we want to pivot our bid to the new stadium.”

Spyridon says they’ve assured FIFA of a clean construction site. They’ve mapped out the campus around Nissan Stadium to show them how it will work, even while the new stadium is under construction nearby. He adds that the proximity of world-class facilities like GEODIS Park and the soon to be opened Nashville SC training facility, which could act as hubs for various teams, are an added bonus

“[FIFA] loved them. In particular, Nashville SC’s training facilities opened their eyes,” he said. “One of their comments was that most of our facilities without doing anything, are better than what they’re used to.”

Nissan Stadium will be 27 years old when the 2026 World Cup roles around. With new state-of-the-art facilities on the shortlist, can a stadium built in 1999 compete?

“I think it holds up pretty well. It’s obviously not SoFi or Mercedez-Benz. We know that,” says Spyridon. “But because of the natural grass, because of the Titans’ experience in hosting soccer games… I think yeah, they wish it was a little shinier or newer, but we’ve answered any concerns about that question too.”

Spyridon and Nashville feel confident heading into Thursday’s announcement, if a little bit antsy, too. They’ll all be glued to the FS1 broadcast at 4 pm, waiting to hear Nashville’s name called. The opportunity to host the biggest sporting event in the world is at stake, and there’s no indication which way FIFA is leaning.

“My gut literally has us on the fence, 50/50,” admits Spyridon. ” I’d like to be able to cheat one way or another to make my day better on Thursday. But it’s not a cop-out answer. I think that’s exactly where we are.”

“What we demonstrated with the NFL, how we can turn it into a truly unique entertainment experience when games are not going on, I don’t think anyone else can do that. I think we’ve delivered that to FIFA,” he says. “It’s an enormous opportunity for Nashville, in particular our event resume, the eyes of the world and the revenue that would come with that. But in addition to that, I truly think it is a tremendous opportunity for FIFA.”

With two days to go until the final decision is announced, there’s nothing to do except wait.

“I feel like we’ve answered everything. My fingers and toes are crossed.”

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids.

Leave a Reply