Music City Baseball’s (MCB) bid to bring a Major League Baseball club to Nashville received a boost last week when former Expos, Marlins, Tigers and Red Sox General Manager Dave Dombrowski formally joined the group. The longtime front office executive added further credibility to a collective that already includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Diamondbacks G.M. Dave Stewart. MCB plans to formally present their proposal at the 2021 Winter Meetings (which are scheduled to be held in Nashville), but the group has a lot of work to do before a team can call the city home. As Dombrowski said, “Major League Baseball owners are not, under any scenario, going to relocate or expand unless they know [our group] can build a ballpark”—and to do that MCB still needs to find a deep-pocketed owner willing and able to both buy a team and finance the new venue.
Our Take: Music City Baseball Managing Director John Loar centered on Nashville after looking at a host of prospective MLB markets. With a population of 1.8 million (+2% YoY) and another 82 people moving into the metro area every day (a faster rate than peer cities like Raleigh, Indianapolis, Louisville and Memphis), the capital of Tennessee certainly appears as if it is well on the way to becoming the ‘City of the Future’.
Back in December, we wrote that Major League Baseball in Orlando was a pipe dream. While the market itself could potentially support a team, the group promoting the idea couldn’t. One MLB franchise owner explained at the time that former Orlando Magic executive Pat Williams and his partners lacked “the capability (see: funding) to own and operate a franchise.” Dombrowski readily acknowledges that his group “does not have any major investors” lined up to buy a club at this point either (they do have some investment capital so that MCB can continue to operate over the next 18 months), so it’s hard to suggest Nashville is any closer to landing a MLB franchise than the central Florida city is.
In addition to “finding a control interest person and putting together a diverse group of [L.P.s],” MCB needs to build a major league ballpark (or at least have all of the approvals/financing in place to do so) before it can be considered a viable home for a MLB team. The city’s MiLB venue (home of the Nashville Sounds) only seats 10,000–12,000 fans and as Dombrowski said, “the Titans stadium really isn’t built for [baseball].” The group hopes to build a privately financed retractable roof venue on the city’s East Bank (near Nissan Stadium), “and the entertainment district can help pay for that private funding.”
Of course, even if the hurdles relating to financing and the ballpark were to be ironed out, a relocation or expansion opportunity would need to arise for Nashville to get a team. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that finding long-term stadium/market solutions for the A’s and Rays was a greater priority than expanding to 32 teams. A source with knowledge of the league’s thinking says that position has not changed, but it does reason to believe that the idea of adding a couple billion dollars’ worth of expansion fees would be appealing to owners seeking to offset revenue losses from the 2020 (and likely ’21) season. It’s also not hard to envision COVID eventually forcing the owner of a small market club to sell, thus providing an opportunity for relocation sooner than the league might have previously anticipated.
Dombrowski’s decision to join MCB is perhaps the most positive sign to date that despite the high hurdles referenced, a team will one day call Nashville home. Clearly, the accomplished baseball executive wouldn’t have relocated his family and taken himself out of the running for other front office positions if he wasn’t confident in “the individuals [involved] and the plan.” The two-time World Series champion (1997, 2018) said he consulted with Major League Baseball before signing on, and while no promises were made on the league side, “people are very optimistic about Nashville as a future MLB market.”
MCB hopes to be able to position its bid for a club as the first (within MLB or MiLB) with an African-American majority owner. While it remains to be seen “who steps forward” (i.e. it’s not completely in their control), Dombrowski emphasized that “even if the control person is not a [minority], ownership of the entity will be made up of a large group of diverse individuals.” It reasons to believe that with the Commissioner’s Office placing “a huge emphasis on diversity involvement in ownership,” the group’s efforts to be inclusionary in nature (they already have a minority majority Board of Directors) will only help their prospects of landing a team. If Loar and Co. can successfully bring Major League Baseball to the market, the club will be named the Nashville Stars—a tribute to the Negro Leagues team that once called the city home (the group has a rev-share partnership in place with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum).
It’s worth mentioning that if Nashville were to land a MLB club, MCB would have to buy the territorial rights to the market from the Sounds. The MiLB team would then all but certainly relocate as “it would be difficult for the Triple-A club to compete with a big-league club [in the same city],” Dombrowski said.
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