July 3, 2022

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Sports Really Satisfies

Column: Nashville is the WNBA’s most logical expansion destination

I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I have lived here for all 23 years of my life, but for about as long as I can remember, I have always loved it when my family and I would take trips up to Nashville, Tennessee.

My mother’s family, including my grandmother, great-aunts, cousins, one of my aunts, one of Mom’s childhood friends and one of Dad’s friends lived in Nashville, and I would love going up there to see them. I fully confess that this fondness is one of the reasons, but not the only reason that I think that the WNBA should expand to Nashville.

It’s a great coincidence that around the time I was born in 1998, Nashville started to become a burgeoning sports city, as the NHL expanded to the Music City with the Nashville Predators during my birth year and the year before that, the NFL had relocated the Houston Oilers to the same city to become the Tennessee Oilers, later to be renamed the Tennessee Titans in 1999.

Nashville’s emergence as a top-flight sports city is definitely the first reason that WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert would be wise to put one of the two possible expansion teams there. Both the Titans and the Predators have been near the top of their respective leagues in attendance, with the former being 12th in 2021 and the latter being fourth in 2021-22.

Not only that, but ever since the MLS also expanded to the state of Tennessee with Nashville SC in 2020, they’ve been near the top of the league in attendance as well, as they are currently fourth in attendance since they began playing at Geodis Park this year.

Given how the city has rallied behind all three of its professional sports teams, it’s not a stretch to say that Nashville would rally behind a potential WNBA team as well. I’m basing that opinion on a survey conducted by the Nashville Sports Authority where 80 percent of the residents surveyed said that they would support a potential WNBA or NWSL team in Nashville.

Clearly, there is enthusiasm for this idea, as the same council is already making a bid for a team. They definitely have a strong case when you consider the factors that the WNBA is looking for in an expansion city including demographics, population, viewership, politics and policies and generations.

The entire Nashville metropolitan area consists of 1.3 million people and the population has grown by two percent each in the past two years. Many of these people are northern transplants coming from cities where basketball reigns supreme. These would be in addition to the people who are already fans of the iconic University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers women’s basketball team, winners of eight national championships under Tennessee native, the late head coach Pat Summitt.

There are also plenty of young people coming to the city nicknamed the Athens of the South looking to attend universities such as Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Vanderbilt University. If the WNBA truly wants to appeal to more young fans, Nashville is definitely the place to be.

They would already have two potential venues where a team could play: Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The former is the home to the Predators and has hosted both men’s and women’s college basketball tournaments, including the 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four. The latter is the home of the Nashville Roller Girls roller derby team.

The Predators have been a big supporter of the Women in Sports Initiative and would most likely support sharing their arena with a WNBA team. Also, even though the Auditorium is much smaller, it is funded by the city and it is possible for it to be upgraded at any time.

As Nashville continues to grow into a burgeoning metropolis, a WNBA team would help it continue to grow. Nashville is a popular tourist destination, especially thanks to their iconic Downtown district with its hotels and music entertainment venues.

Given that the WNBA season takes place over the summer and many tourists travel in the summer, there are even more potential fans to get interested in the WNBA and its product. They will be drawn in by the same things that allowed for the 2019 NFL Draft to be in Nashville and might even potentially bring the 2026 FIFA World Cup there as well.

Nashville has become such a prominent sports city that it has even been considered a potential landing spot for the MLB’s Oakland Athletics should they fail to get a new stadium in Oakland. The WNBA will be tapping into a potential gold mine if the league chooses to expand to the capital of the Volunteer state.

They will be able to create more revenue, more roster spots and more eyeballs in a city that would welcome them wholeheartedly. I have always considered Nashville to be my second home and a city with a special place in my heart and now it has the chance to become the same thing for many women’s basketball fans. I sincerely hope that the WNBA takes that chance.