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By Mike Dorr
What you are about to read below is biased, in the way that a job resume is biased toward painting the candidate in the best possible light. It is not intended to say that your city is not, in fact, the center of the sports universe. It will just highlight a few unique reason why mine might grow in its importance. Your objections are noted.
Nashville is known, above all other titles, as Music City. It is a title well-earned, being the home of country music, but its citizens know that rock, bluegrass, folk, Christian, and pop music also have roots here. This post from the Atlantic shows just how much that’s true. That’s the not the point of this article, which is this: Nashville is a town deeply passionate about sports in the heart of a country that is obsessed with its biggest sports. Nashville will become a more important city for sports in the future.
Nashville’s been identified as an “It” city by numerous publications, including the NY Times, Bon Appetit, and Food & Wine, based on its growing reputation as a place to not only have a good time but also to eat good food and experience the South in a way that still seems, let’s just say it, “civilized”. These are all true, but many of the same things could be said about Austin or Charleston (SC) or Atlanta or Birmingham. You might say that these things have little to do with sports, and you’d be right, but here’s why Nashville matters on the American sporting scene, and why it will be more important in the coming years.
1. Nashville is the only market with a team in the two biggest brands in America’s most popular sport: football. The NFL and the SEC are America’s top football brands, bar none, and only Nashville can claim a team in both (the Titans and the Commodores). Dallas, New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Atlanta have nearby SEC teams but not within the city. This isn’t a claim that the Titans or Commodores are championship-level teams, but their presence here means that multiple fan bases and their media contingent come to a city with more cultural experience to offer than a typical stop.
2. In the world of college sports, no city can claim a more central location to deeply passionate fan bases and championship caliber teams than Nashville. The last 2 winners of the NCAA tournament (Louisville and Kentucky) and the BCS Championship (Alabama twice) are each a three-hour drive (or less) from Nashville. The stats on this are clear:
Louisville is the top TV market (in terms of market share) for college basketball. Birmingham for college football. They are smaller cities overall, but the passion of their fan bases is unquestioned.
Nashville ranks in the top 5 (share, again) for both sports, and the NFL. This extends not just to Titans games, but the SEC games of the week, NFL Sunday games of the week, and Sunday/Monday Night Football.
Several major recruiting services, like Rivals.com or 24/7 Sports, have started in the Nashville area and/or retained major presences here.
Nashville is the largest city with an SEC university, although it’s the smallest school. As a result, the SEC has committed to Nashville with future SEC basketball tournaments and its not unimaginable that future Media Days and other SEC events will come through here.
Sports radio in these markets is dominant. The Nashville drive-time sports talk show (3HL, with OKTC’s Clay Travis) has enviable market share and Paul Finebaum got nationally syndicated after his success on Birmingham radio. The Mid-South is producing relevant commentary nationwide and Nashville’s in the middle of it
3. Nashville is poised for a central role in the future college sports landscape. Most of you will have read Clay’s article on the NCAA and its future, separating revenue sports (football and basketball) from all others. His suggestion is spot on for the ideal transformation of college sports, but I doubt it will ever happen. The NCAA is going down, because its executives would rather sit atop the scrap heap of money that they earn from the labor of under-compensated college athletes than admit they are wrong. The future lies in the conferences and their deals with the major media outlets like ESPN.
Some organization will replace the NCAA. It doesn’t yet exist, but it’s likely to be a joint agreement of 4-5 power conferences (SEC, PAC, the BIGs, ACC) that governs the new rules.
Nashville is almost perfectly centered as a location for such an organization. Here’s an exercise:
Take a US map and draw a line north-south that passes (on the bottom) thru San Antonio. All SEC, Big 12, Big 10, and ACC schools are east of this line. The PAC-12 is west of it.
Plot the locations of all the non PAC schools in those conferences on the map. Connect lines of the schools on the perimeter (and even the middle) to schools on the other side of the shape.
Note the center of the plot – it’s nearer to Nashville than any other major city. (If you think I’m pulling stuff out of my rear-end here, note that Nashville is also just 3 hours distant from the headquarters of both UPS (Louisville) and FedEx (Memphis). Amazon has two major distribution centers here – companies are doing the math).
4. The sports and entertainment worlds are colliding – Nashville is one of a very few cities where this could happen. Jay-Z has received more press recently as a sports agent than as a hip-hop artist or Beyonce’s husband. Pop culture stars are into sports and sports stars are into pop culture. This happens naturally in New York and Los Angeles, less so in places like Chicago and Atlanta, but the opportunity is there. The opportunity to cross streams is next best in Nashville. A great number of NFL and NHL players who have passed through as players have returned to settle their families because they love Nashville.
I love Nashville – it has given me friends, family, a career, but moreover it’s the place I want to be from, even though I grew up elsewhere. I’d recommend you move here. If you care deeply about sports, I cannot imagine a better place to be.