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Music City Baseball leadership opens up about challenges, opportunity to bring MLB to Nashville

Posted: 4:06 PM, Oct 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-10-04 11:21:51-04
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As Major League Baseball playoffs arrived and the final teams clinched their spots, much of the talk in Tennessee about baseball was centered around a team that isn’t even a team yet: The Nashville Stars.

On Sunday, Music City Baseball, the group behind the effort to bring a Major League Baseball team to Nashville, released renderings of a potential MLB stadium on the east bank of the Cumberland River in Nashville.

The renderings are a first look at what baseball could look like if the MLB expands or if a team relocates to Nashville.

NewsChannel 5’s Jesse Knutson was able to sit down with the managing director of Music City Baseball, John Loar, as well as the chairman of the board for Music City Baseball, Al Gonzales, to talk about the renderings, the process of getting a team, and what they envision for MLB in Nashville.

The renderings:

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The renderings show a stadium for the Nashville Stars on the east bank of the Cumberland River just south of Nissan Stadium and north of Korean Veterans Boulevard.

The land is currently occupied by parking lots for Nissan Stadium, as well as Cumberland Park.

The renderings show the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge heading straight into the stadium on a club level, and much of the parking for Nissan Stadium being replaced by what the team describes as a mixed-use family sports and entertainment district.

The concept includes a Major League Baseball stadium with a retractable roof, a covered entertainment area integrated into the ballpark, a College Baseball Hall of Fame, a police substation, a rooftop bar, a condo or hotel, a new park, greenway, and potential marina, a live/work area as well as parking, and an office tower.

“This site across the river, it’s just a vision, it’s what’s possible,” Loar said of the renderings and conceptual stadium site plans.

The group studied multiple possible sites in Davidson, Williamson, and Rutherford Counties.

The group said they’re focusing on this land in hopes to create the sports and entertainment venue next to Nissan Stadium that could benefit both the team, the Titans, and the city.

“I see an opportunity, and the opportunity is, I think if we’re successful in bringing a franchise, securing a franchise for Nashville, privately financing the stadium, I’m hoping that we are contributing to the Titans’ ability to restructure their bonds, get improvements to their stadium, and be a part of this complete overall sports and entertainment district,” Loar said.

The group said while the site would be a great location for the stadium, as of now, it’s just an idea.

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“This is a rendering,” Gonzales explained. “I think it’s very important for people to be able to see the picture of what’s possible – this is a vision of what’s possible.”

With many sports franchises, the original idea for a stadium can change significantly by the time the construction begins.

“It remains to be seen what the stadium may look like, it remains to be seen where the stadiums going to go, but again, we throw this out there as a way to generate excitement to get people thinking about the reality of baseball here in Nashville. We believe it can be real, and we think this is an important step in moving this project forward,”

Gonzales explained, adding that there would need to be an agreement with the city worked out for this specific site to work. “We don’t have an agreement or understanding with the city about the use of this facility, the property, which is owned by the Sports Authority. And obviously that’s something that we’ll have to work through. It is one of several sites that we’ve been looking at in Davidson County, Williamson County, and Rutherford County.”

For the team, the site is exciting due to the fact of it’s easy of accessibility from downtown, among other factors, especially because the site would be used for more than baseball.

“It’s more than just baseball. Baseball is a 22% of the time,” Loar explained. “We’re looking at expanded convention uses, music entertainment venues, corporate venues, and other opportunities that you could secure. Our plan is to do a retractable conditioned space so that it can be used 365 days a year.”

When it comes to financing, Loar said his plan is to have it paid for by investors, rather than any public money being used to finance the stadium.

“It’s very difficult for a market to publicly finance a stadium. I think those days are gone,” Loar said.

Loar and Gonzales said they’re currently working to get investors onboard with the project, and their focus is getting Tennesseans to invest in the team.

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Team name:

Music City Baseball has announced that if Nashville is awarded a franchise, the new team name will be the “Nashville Stars” in honor of several Negro Leagues baseball teams that played games in Nashville prior to the integration of Major League Baseball.

According to Loar, he was doing a history review of baseball in Tennessee when he read a book by Skip Nipper, a Nashville baseball historian, and he came across the name Nashville Stars.

Loar was then able to connect with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and came to the conclusion that the name would be a perfect fit for a new MLB team in Nashville.

“Just found it to be just fascinating. The history behind the name, the history behind baseball in Tennessee and baseball in Nashville and just the period of time between the early 40s, the mid 40s, through early 1951 with the Nashville Stars and the connection with the Negro Leagues,” Loar explained. “It’s really become part of our DNA.”

Already, the group has worked on branding and marketing materials in partnership with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, with plans to start selling their first branded merchandise on Friday: a bat with the Nashville Stars name made by the Old Hickory Bat Company out of Goodlettsville.

Music City Baseball said they believe in the mission and work of the museum and they recognize and want to honor the contributions of the Negro Leagues to baseball and to American history by using the Nashville Stars name.

“This would be historic,” Loar said. “It’d be the first team in Major League Baseball to have a direct connection with a name from the Negro Leagues.”

Beyond the historic connection, Loar said the Nashville Stars would be a great name for a team from Music City because of the entertainment industry.

“Really, it’s more than just the name of a baseball team, it’s Music City,” Loar said. “People come to Nashville in the music industry to be stars, so when I came across that name, it just seemed like a natural fit.”

Music City Baseball’s work with other entities:

The effort to bring Major League Baseball to Nashville is still in it’s early stages, but that hasn’t kept Music City Baseball from reaching out to the other professional sports teams in Nashville as well as city officials.

As mentioned earlier in the article, Loar explained his hope to work with the Titans, and the group sees great examples of how to operate a successful team thanks to Nashville’s professional sports teams.

“Nashville residents love their sports teams,” Gonzales said. “They’re strong supporters of the Predators. Who would have believed that hockey could be so popular in a southern community like Nashville?”

Gonzales said the group has spoken to each respective professional sports team in preliminary conversations, but the conversations with city officials will likely be the most important.

“The relationships that exist with the city are going to be very, very critical. In order to be successful in doing this, we need mayor Cooper’s leadership, we need his vision,” Gonzalez said. “I think he’s supportive of any project that’s going to enhance the reputation of Nashville, that’s going to generate net revenue for the city of Nashville, that’s going to bring tangible benefits to the city of Nashville, that’s not going to cost the city taxpayer dollars.”

Gonzalez said they have spoken with Cooper’s administration, but it’s early in those discussions.

As for Nashville’s already established professional baseball team, the AAA Nashville Sounds, the group believes they’ve laid a strong foundation for baseball in Nashville.

“I think the Sounds have been great for Nashville, and I think they’re a success,” Loar said. “We’re going to do everything possibly we can do to work with them. We hope that we can find a way that both teams can survive in the market, potentially be part of our minor league system.”

Loar said at this point it’s too early to address what could potentially happen to First Tennessee Park if a Major League team is awarded to Nashville.

Expansion vs. relocating a team:

There are two ways for Nashville to get a team. The first would be being awarded an expansion team by Major League Baseball. The second would be to have a current Major League Baseball team relocated to Nashville.

“Our preference would be to have an expansion team really to follow the Predators model not the Titans model,” Gonzales said of the two options. “That preference, at least for me, is because it’s more likely that if we have an expansion team that we’ll have more Tennessee investors behind that team, involved with that team, owning that team. Also, it’s more likely that the brand that we have chosen for the Nashville Stars. The history that exists between Major League Baseball, the Negro Leagues, and the city of Nashville is something that’s very important to us, and we think it’s more likely that we can maintain that brand if we go through expansion as opposed to relocation, but obviously, if relocation were proposed to us as an option, that would be considered very seriously.”

The last Major League Baseball expansion took place in 1998 when the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were officially added to the league.

“There’s no guarantees here,” Gonzales said. “There’s no guarantee that Major League Baseball is going to expand in the next 10 or 20 years. We haven’t had expansion in over 20 years. That may continue for another 20 years.”

Gonzales and Loar both said that the MLB has said they have no plans to expand until issues with the franchises in Oakland and Tampa Bay are resolved.

The group maintains that it’s better to be prepared for an announcement of an expansion rather than to scramble at the last minute.

“This is a long-term project. It’s going to take a lot of work, 3 to 5 years,” Gonzalez said. “We’re going to be patient about it, we’re going to be methodical about it, we’re going to be professional about it, but we believe if we do our job that when Major League Baseball is ready to consider expansion, Nashville will be at the top of the list.”

Music City Baseball is working on getting investors:

Music City Baseball’s goal is to get as many investors into the conversation as possible, and they’re focusing on getting local investors to participate at all levels of the project. That goes from majority owner to minority ownership.

“I think we’ll have a good plan in place so that we can attract the level of investment necessary to buy a Major League Baseball franchise,” Gonzales said, adding that they want an ownership team that represents Nashville.

What Music City Baseball wants to show the MLB:

When it comes to getting a franchise, the final decision lies with Major League Baseball and the team owners.

The goal over the next years is for Music City Baseball to come up with material and support that will show that Nashville would be a good addition to Major League Baseball.

“I think what we need to show to Major League Baseball and it’s ownership is that Nashville can be a revenue contributor to all of the Major League owners as they have their revenue share agreement. I think that’s the big concern: teams that are struggling in markets that they pull from the revenue model,” Loar explained. “I think our objective is to show why Nashville, through an extensive feasibility study and economic analysis of this market, why Nashville makes sense for Major League Baseball. Why Nashville can be a revenue contributor to Major League Baseball.”

Beyond the financial aspect, it’s important to show that a potential city could fill the stands, and based on the Titans, Loar doesn’t think that will be an issue.

“I think you’re seeing more people, more fans from the opposing team come into Nashville, putting it on their schedule or reason to come to Nashville and they show up and they’re here for 3 days. I think that applies to baseball as well.”

Loar said because in baseball you play so many teams, it would give people a great opportunity to visit Nashville and mix baseball with tourism.

“People love to come to Nashville, and the opportunity to come to Nashville for a mid-week game, can you imagine the Nashville Stars playing the New York Yankees? Or the Nashville Stars playing the Los Angeles Dodgers? No matter what league they’re in, American or National League, I think the opportunity with these games is just exciting,” Loar said. “I think our objective is to do our homework, build our infrastructure out, put our feasibility and economic analysis to show that Nashville really is a market that can support Major League Baseball.”

How feasible is it that Nashville will get a Major League Baseball team?

There are numerous cities that are currently putting together groups that are vying for a Major League Baseball team, but Loar believes that Nashville has one of the best cases for getting a team.

“I think Nashville is the hottest market in the country. I mean, it really is,” Loar said. “I think the energy in Nashville on a daily basis, I mean, you just have to go down Broadway, and just see how many people are there on a Sunday morning, Sunday afternoon or a Monday. I think the energy during the week here and the amount of people that will be participating in the game both from coming from outside the are and Nashville itself, I just think it’s, it kind of gives you chills.”

Generally an ownership group needs the proper financial investment, a location and funding for a stadium, and support from the city before being awarded a franchise.

Music City Baseball thinks they will be a strong candidate for expansion or relocation.

If Nashville gets a team, when could they start playing?

Music City Baseball said while work is underway to get a Major League Baseball team, it’s not something that would happen overnight.

“A lot of things have to happen, a lot of things have to happen right,” Gonzales said. “We have to build a stadium, you’ve got to find the investors, the infrastructure has to be put in place, we have to make a case to Major League Baseball. The owners only get together for certain times of the year, so the way we map it out, probably no earlier than 2024 if we’re talking about expansion. Relocation, perhaps a little sooner than that. Again, as I said, this is a long-term project. People have to patient, but we want them to remain excited about Major League Baseball in Nashville.”

For more information about Music City Baseball and the Nashville Stars, you can visit their website . There they plan to launch their first piece of merchandise on Friday, a bat made by Old Hickory Bat Company bearing the Nashville Stars name.