MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred sent shockwaves through Music City at the All-Star Game last night when he mentioned Nashville as a possible city for an expansion team in the near future.
In an interview during the broadcast last night, Manfred was asked about the possibility of expanding Major League Baseball to 32 teams, at which point he listed several cities that could be prime candidates for a new franchise.
Nashville is mentioned alongside Portland, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Vancouver, and Montreal as potential cities to get a Major League Baseball team.
MLB hasn't expanded since the 90s, when it introduced four new additions in Denver (Colorado Rockies), Miami (Marlins), Tampa (Rays), and Phoenix (Diamondbacks), and talk of expansion cooled significantly in the early part of the 21st century. However, Manfred sees expansion as an opportunity to better the game and introduce Major League Baseball to new audiences around the country.
But, before you get too excited, how likely is a Nashville team?
Well, first of all, let me go on the record as saying as I would LOVE this. I'm a lifelong baseball fan (Go Cardinals). I played as a kid, and I love taking my family to Sounds games. But, as exciting as the possibility of having an MLB team here, I'm not so sure we'd really be the first choice.
But let's start with the pro-Nashville stance.
1) Nashville is increasingly becoming known as a sports town. The Predators are GREAT and always pack Bridgestone Arena. The Titans, while they've been down for a long time, appear to be on the way up and always draw. We were just awarded a Major League Soccer franchise AND the NFL draft for 2019. Needless to say, pro sports is starting to notice us.
2) While Nashville would certainly be considered a "small market" team, our current population (1.9 million) holds up to several cities that have successful baseball franchises - Milwaukee (1.6 million), Cleveland (2 million), Cincinnati (2.1 million), Kansas City (2.1 million), and Pittsburgh (2.3 million) just to name a few.
3) Nashville IS a baseball town. The Sounds lead the Pacific Coast League in attendance in 2018, averaging nearly 8,500 fans a game.
4) Geographically, it makes sense. Currently the closest MLB teams to Nashville are the Atlanta Braves and Cincinnati Reds - neither of which are what you would call an "easy drive".
5) With its reputation as a tourist mecca, there's certainly the temptation to build a Major League franchise in Music City to capture not only locals, but out-of-towners looking for the experience of a game.
While some people (including myself) are excited about the possibility...
Others are a little more realistic about the expectations
Personally, while I'd love to see an MLB team in Nashville, I can't imagine that we're the first choice out of the cities that were listed. Let's set the table for the other side of the argument
1) While Nashville is big enough to be an MLB city, it's by far the SMALLEST of the cities that Commissioner Manfred listed. Portland, Charlotte, Vancouver, Montreal, and Las Vegas metro areas all currently have populations substantially larger than ours.
2) Montreal would be the most likely of the new destinations, as they had a MLB team for years (the Expos moved to Washington D.C. in the early 2000s), have the largest populace of the cities mentioned, and the city has been begging for baseball to return for over a decade. Portland also has been mentioned in numerous expansion conversations in recent years, including a Sports Illustrated article speculating on MLB expansion last year.
3) A lack of serviceable mass transit options make the logistical element of yet another pro team a little more difficult. Traffic and parking would get even more complicated than they already are, and with 81 home games on the schedule every year, the demand on our roads would be greater than it is with an NHL (41 home games) or NFL (8 home games) team. With former Mayor Barry's transit plan failing earlier this year, the city government is back to square one and it could be years before a satisfactory transit plan is in place.
4) The funding. WHO'S GOING TO PAY FOR IT? Can Nashville taxpayers bear the weight of four professional sports franchises, when most "smaller" markets have only 1 or 2 teams? Kansas City has only the Royals and Chiefs. Milwaukee has an NBA team and an MLB team, but no hockey or football (although Green Bay technically counts). St. Louis has only the Cardinals and Blues, and Cincinnati has only an NFL team and an MLB team.
5) The stadium problem. While First Tennessee Park is gorgeous, it would require a massive expansion to house enough seats and luxury boxes to support a Major League franchise. The lack of space and funding for a stadium almost cost us the Major League Soccer team before the Fairgrounds was finally settled on. Nissan Stadium is in dire need of some upgrades as well. Where would we find the money and room for a Major League stadium in the midst of all of these other demands?
So, at the end of the day, I'd LOVE to see Nashville have a Major League team. But my guess is, if expansion were announced today, it'd be Montreal and Portland. But Music City - let's GOOOOOOO!