In this world of virtual reality, the hardcore soccer fan can pop their favorite video game into a gaming system or computer and take over their favorite club and act as the owner. But in Nashville, fans can actually have their say in what goes on at Nashville FC.
When the merger of Nashville Atlas FC and Nashville FC occurred earlier this year, Nashville FC had the unique proposition for all soccer fans. The team will run under a 100% fan-owned club with those who buy in will get a say in how the club is operated.
“The membership is your voice, your vote,” Nashville FC’s Vice President of Soccer Nolan Pittman said about the opportunities with the club. “Whether you have a very thick checkbook or not, you can still participate. The only difference is the perks and privileges that come with the two (types of memberships).”
For $75 you can make major decisions about the club, free admission to all home matches, other perks that will be announced later, and a “Founders” scarf, which will only be printed once and will no longer be an option once the team fills those places. $40 will still get you the power to make decisions about the club, without the perks mentioned above, but all members will be listed in the directory.
“We’re trying to make it that as a member of the club; you have open access to all the things you would want to have access to as a decision maker. We want to build an online community for our members to exchange ideas freely. You never know what may come from two passionate members. We have a board of advisors that will make the day-to-day decisions, but those decisions are nominated and voted on by all of the members,” Pittman added. “So if somebody is not doing a good job or running against the culture of the club, they will find themselves out of a job very quick.”
The beauty of what Nashville FC is accomplishing is that members of the club will not be just fans and people based in Tennessee. The club claims what they are trying to accomplish is “the Green Bay Packers in a nutshell.”
“We’re trying to set a national standard,” Pittman mentioned. “We have had a positive response from everywhere including international attention and have had members join from Brazil, France, England, plus there has been a nationwide interest in what we’re doing. We would like to see this model executed all across the country.”
The most significant American-based team to be fan owned is the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.
For this marriage of club and fan to become a reality, another relationship had to form as Nashville FC and Nashville Atlas FC moved into one club, Nashville FC.
“As part of the merger, each one of the managers that had a financial stake in Atlas agreed to a package to leave Atlas alive and well as it will be a local brand and community-focused,” Pittman explained. “In the merger between the two clubs, Atlas’ philosophy was to build an infrastructure and build around it and Nashville FC was more fan driven, so off the field, starting with brand messaging and it was inevitable that the two clubs were going to collide.”
The team, now under one identity, knew the time was right to give the fans a taste of what being a club owner meant.
“The credit for the idea of fan-owned club is Chris Jones, who was the original president of Nashville FC. We bought into that early model. The original idea had come from an article he had seen on a group from Manchester and he had talked to supporters of Portsmouth FC, and even our director of club operations is a fan of them. We looked at those clubs as a model .”
As Pittman pointed out, FC United of Manchester was born out of distain for their beloved Manchester United’s order of business, so started the club as a community based club in 2005. Nine years on, they have over 1,800 supporters and are looking to build a £5 million stadium. As for Pompey, after long and prosperous years in England’s top league, the fans rescued the club and became to majority owners after several years of owners mishandling the club’s finances.
“We’re humbled, excited, and honored by the attention that we’ve gotten. We didn’t set out on this journey in an effort to make a name for ourselves in soccer. I think we have been successful because we love the game and we’ve all had our experiences.”
Even the world-famous Barcelona and Real Madrid have had fan-members since their inception.
“We’re trying to give the community owned model a run here in the US,” Pittman added. “We have no doubt that this will work at the fourth level of the US system. That’s why we buy into the NPSL program; it gives us the ability to build a brand and build a community and build a club in an environment that we’re not hamstrung by the expensive cost of joining the NPSL.”
Most importantly for Nashville FC, they will be paired with a group of heavily supported teams as they play in an eight team conference ranging from Rocket City United (Huntsville, AL), Knoxville, Pensacola City FC, Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves, New Orleans, Georgia Revolution (Conyers, GA) and especially Chattanooga FC.
“The owners in the Southeastern Conference have been really supportive and helpful in identifying ways to get our program off the ground.”
If there was a town or region for this to happen, Nashville is most likely the best place to give the fans a part of the action since soccer has exploded in the ‘Volunteer’ state.
“Nashville is a great place for the game to grow because there’s an intense soccer community here. It’s admirable how involved the people are in this city itself and people attach themselves to this city in a kind of emotional way. Soccer is a community oriented game; I think that’s why the motto fits well.”
Nashville FC has chosen the motto “Our Town, Our Club” as their moniker and look to adhere to that message and help grow the game throughout the state of Tennessee.
“There’s no reason that a city the size of Nashville, with as much soccer as it has here; there’s no reason not to have a successful top level team. That’s always been the desire. ”