When the Nashville Metros ceased after 23 years of operation, the opportunity emerged for a new organization to claim rights to a semi-professional soccer team in Nashville.
With the hopes of a team to fill the vacancy, Nashville area native Chris Jones and a few friends decided to form Nashville FC and aimed to become the first supporter-owned soccer club in the United States.
“There’s so much talent here that needs the next level and you’d really be doing a disservice if you didn’t have it,” said Jones, the founder of Nashville FC. “It was now or never. If you give it a year or two, you leave time for other groups to come in and take momentum you built off of.”
The inspiration for the supporter-owned model came to Jones when he stumbled upon FC United of Manchester, a club that was started by a group of Manchester United fans unsatisfied with the owners.
Not only did the club set an example for the United Kingdom and across Europe, but it made way for the possibility to have that model in the states said Jones.
“It resonated with me and was a true signal of where it lies. Without the fans, they’re nothing. Power resides in the supporters and fans,” Jones said. “If that’s where it is, why are they not running and owning the show?”
As Jones and his colleagues were looking for franchise rights to a league, another club, Nashville Atlas, acquired the rights first to compete in the National Premier Soccer League. NPSL is the fourth tier on the U.S. soccer pyramid and features 78 teams across the country in 29 states, whose seasons begin in May and run through July.
“It almost seems illogical to not have a team here,” said Nolan Pittman, an Atlas founder and former soccer player at Belmont. “Nashville has really developed itself into a soccer city. It deserves a team and to be the next big soccer city in the Southeast.”
While the organizations started out as competitors, mutual friends convinced them to combine their forces and work under the supporter-owned model created by FC.
“They had the supporter side and we had the soccer side. They were strong in areas we’re not. Let’s put two and two together,” Pittman said. “We had the same mindset at the same level, and everything fell into place. It was a productive process.”
While he was torn at first about the model, Pittman said what sold him on the idea was the people making decisions were the ones emotionally and financially invested.
“To see people buy into the model, it just confirms the potential is bigger than I thought it was. It’s been a nice confirmation,” Pittman said.
Since the merger of the two clubs, memberships have increased to more than 500 and continues to grow today. Nashville FC has gained not only national support but international as well including members that live in Brazil and Japan.
Jones said the support from everywhere has been humbling because it expresses what the game represents to people.
“It’s a way for different cultures and languages to come together and really enjoy the community aspect of the game,” he said. “It solidifies that all these people are willing to spend and shows the model has power behind it.”
For those who invest money in the club, there are two different membership packages available. The founder’s level costs $75 and includes a member’s scarf and admission to all home games at the Vanderbilt Soccer Complex. Someone who purchases the regular membership for $40 receives a Nashville FC T-shirt.
No matter which option someone chooses, each member receives an equal vote in the decisions made by the club.
“We all have one vote like everyone else. We have responsibility to other members and our peers,” Pittman said. “It’s a feeling of family and community. We all associate together and are excited to see how it comes together.”
Ron Deal, who followed the previous semi-professional team, said unlike the Metros, the FC philosophy has made communication between the members and board of directors easy and accessible.
“It appears they have made all the right decisions so far,” said Deal, who has a founder’s level membership. “Sure there will be bumps, but I haven’t met anyone who only thought of themselves. It’s people who love the sport and to see it grow.”
Part of the growth includes members like Eric Richardson, who has started up one of the supporter groups for FC.
“Traditional football teams have supporter groups that are really hardcore fans. I started that up with Simeon Ayton,” Richardson said. “It developed into all the chants that incorporate the Nashville spirit into it. I’m really excited to help start it from the ground up.”
As the club and its supporters prepare for its first season in the NPSL in May, Jones believes the team can finish in the top-four of its division and with a winning record. The club will compete in the Southeast division and feature matchups against teams in Chattanooga, Knoxville and others clubs in the region.
“I would be really surprised if we didn’t do that. But having said that, it’s the hardest division there is in the NPSL. The rest of the league is solid. It’s not going to be an easy task but we’re up to it,” Jones said.
Photo Credit: Nashville FC