The business of sports booming in Nashville, but can we afford to keep the ball rolling?
By TOM WOOD / January 23, 2020
When Nashville was crowned 2019’s king of the sports world last December by Sports Business Journal, my first thought was, “Great, but what do we do for an encore?”
Some of the answers can be found this week in the Nashville Ledger, when I look at the past, present and future of sports business in Music City. I learned how we got here, how the current budget crises impacts efforts to bring even more sports — especially soccer, baseball and auto racing — to Nashville, and where we are headed over the next decade. The three-story Ledger package is online now and in print Jan. 24-30. I tried to examine every aspect.
I talked to various insiders, from Mayor John Cooper to team officials like Nashville SC’s Ian Ayre to folks who want to bring other sports to Nashville like John Loar of Music City Baseball to outsiders such as recently retired Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman and SBJ assistant managing editor Ted Keith, who said that the way Nashville hosted the NFL Draft last April — drawing an estimated 600,000 fans to the three-day event — clinched Nashville’s selection as best sports city for 2019.
“Nashville was one of the two, maybe three, cities all along that I thought would have a really good chance, mostly because of the NFL Draft,” Keith said. “I mean, that was such a well-run, well-received event that gave everybody an even greater appreciation for what the NFL Draft could do.”
Of the NFL Draft’s staging, SBJ reporter Ben Fischer wrote that it was a turning point, saying, “it is already clear that when the history of sports in Tennessee’s capital city is written, there will be two chapters: Before the 2019 NFL draft, and after.”
I see it a little different, going all the way back to the late 1990’s when the Tennessee Titans became the city’s first major sports franchise, followed soon after by the Nashville Predators.
Those early days, stretching through the first decade of the 2000s, are the birth of pro sports in Nashville, when we learned to crawl, then stand and take those necessary baby steps. Then came the 2010s, those fast-growing teenage years, full of change, emotional highs and lows that fans love to cheer and jeer about.
And now we’ve hit the Roaring Twenties, fully grown, having shown the sports world what this city can accomplish on the national or world stage. Practically every sport wants to have a presence in Nashville, starting with February’s arrival of Major League Soccer. Nashville SC opens its inaugural season on Feb. 29.
One of the biggest questions to be answered over the next decade is whether Nashville with be home to Major League Baseball, whether as an expansion team or a current franchise relocates here.
John Loar is spearheading the Music City Baseball effort which has some big names as part of his leadership team. He would like to see a privately funded standing and entertainment complex along the East Bank of the Cumberland River next to the Titans’ Nissan Stadium.
“if you look at markets across the country, that potential probably exists in two. In my opinion, it’s Nashville and Las Vegas,” Loar said.
Brennaman, who recently spoke at the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association banquest, endorsed Nashville for a future MLB team.
“I have nothing but positive thoughts. I think they’ve proven they can support a National Football League team. I can’t imagine what the negative would be in terms of making Nashville a serious candidate to have a big-league club. I think it would be great,” Brennaman says, emphasizing the word ‘serious.’
So get ready for a wild decade and enjoy the fun.
GODSPEED, DAVID CLIMER: The news, as it is wont to do, spread like wildfire last Sunday afternoon, January 19. And it was numbing. No matter how prepared you think you are, a death always catches you off-guard. Especially when it’s family.
David Climer was family. Not in the literal sense. But we were blood brothers, part of The Tennessean family. Ink coursed through our veins. Sharing a love of sports, journalism, the written word, and story-telling. David was far better at it than me but we were kindred spirits in many ways, from the same generation.
David, a longtime colleague and friend from my days in The Tennessean sports department, died this past Sunday, January 19, after a brief bout with pancreatic cancer. He was 66. Services are Friday in Nashville.
(2016 photo IDs, L-R — Jimmy Davy, Larry Woody, Joe Biddle, John Gibson, Mike Organ, David Climer, Dwight Lewis, Mike Morrow, me, Maurice Patton, Sandy Campbell)
David and I started full-time at The Tennessean the same year, in 1977. He began his career in 1974 as a part-timer while attending the University of Tennessee, helping Vols beat writer F.M. Williams with his coverage. I was at Middle Tennessee State University and landed a part-time job at The Tennessean in 1976.
We were both lucky to have enjoyed only one full-time job in our careers–something seldom achieved these days in a nomadic, job-jumping world. David lasted a little longer at The Tennessean than I did, me taking an early retirement in 2012 while he stayed there until 2015.
While we were on similar career tracks, we took different paths once ours crossed. David reported on major events and teams while I preferred covering mostly mid-major college sports and lesser sports that I thought deserved better coverage–amateur boxing, the Iroquois Memorial Steeplechase, swimming, softball, etc.
The longest time we ever spent together was a five-week stretch in Atlanta covering the 1996 Summer Olympics. And yet, David and I rarely saw each other there. Usually, we’d have a quick breakfast together and discuss the day’s coverage plans, then spend all day covering four five different events, and maybe talk again for at the end of a grueling 14- to 16-hour day before crashing for a few hours, only to do it all again the next day. I think the Opening Ceremonies were the only event we both covered, maybe a U.S. men’s basketball game.
But that was our routine every day for a month. I’m not complaining; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was exhausting. After I wrote a column about how flawed the ACOG transportation system was from venue to venue — and how much my feet hurt from all the walking I was doing — David reminded me about how lucky we were, getting paid to watch and write about sports, and that I shouldn’t complain–especially in print.
“People don’t want to see the birth pangs, they just want to see the baby,” David said. I don’t think I ever whined — certainly not publicly — about my job after that. We all gripe about the job … but those are stories for some other time.
Jeff Pearlman, a New York Times bestselling author who worked very early in his career in The Tennessean sports department, has a podcast called Two Writers Slinging Yang and spoke with David last month. Give it a listen. David tells the story about being near the bomb blast.
I’ve been thinking about other memories and stories involving David, a mix of hilarity, after-hours shenanigans when we were young, a few painful times, but more that I now treasure. It would be inaccurate to say David and I were close friends; we traveled in different social circles, had different interests outside of the job.
But it was the job that bound us together for life. Not just David, but all those who went before and influenced my life and career. John Bibb and John Seigenthaler were like fathers that you didn’t want to disappoint. I learned about the profession and about life from Tom Squires, Bud Burns, F.M. Williams, Bob Steber, and Bill Isom … competitors I admired like Fred Russell, Edgar Allen, Harold Huggins, Kent Heitholt, and so many others in the Nashville market and across the Southeast.
And of course, I would be remiss to not mention a few other influencers in my newspaper life in and out of the sports department who are still around, names you may recognize like Jimmy Davy, Nick Sullivan, Larry Woody, Cindy Smith, Mike Organ, Sandy Campbell, Dwight Lewis, Jim East, Ivan Aronin, Brad Schmitt, Joe Biddle, and so many more. We are a brotherhood of ink-stained wretches whose job was to inform, inspire and entertain. We usually succeeded.
David is the first from what I consider “my generation” to pass. He was a mentor to many in our profession, me included. You could bounce ideas off him, go to him for personal advice, get an encouraging word – or a cuss word, depending on circumstances. He was funny, smart, curmudgeonly, but all in all a class act.
BOOK EVENTS: Plans are already underway for 2020 events, notably the Franklin Book Festival on May 2-3, and I already have a couple of appearances scheduled in connection with our new Harpeth River Writers anthology WORDS ON WATER. Up next is a February 3 visit to Linebaugh Library in Murfreesboro from 10-1. Hope to see you at one of these events.
We’ve had some great feedback — and several Five-Star reviews about the anthology produced by our Harpeth River Writers group. Thought I’d share this review from Nick Sullivan, another former sports writer and outdoors editor at The Tennessean.
“Words on Water” is an anthology of short stories and poetry by nine very talented award-winning writers of The Harpeth River Writers. The 28 pieces of writing presents a wide-ranging collection of literature held together by the magic of water. Sometimes water is front-and-center; sometimes it plays a supporting role. The stories range from bottled spring water and a back-yard swimming pool to the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. The writers bring their own diverse life experiences, world views, and unique styles to make every read different. The reader keeps wondering after each piece what delightful surprises await next. Definitely is a page-turner.
We sure appreciate reviews like Nick’s and hope you’ll get your copy soon, then post your own review. It’s available at Parnassus Books in Nashville, at Landmark Books in Franklin, Mill Creek Mercantile in Donelson and online, of course. More appearances and outlets are planned for 2020.
As always, thanks for reading.