From Liverpool to Nashville, Ian Ayre on plans for Music City's new team

By his own admission, Ian Ayre, the CEO of the Nashville expansion team that will begin play in MLS in 2020, is still learning his way around Nashville after six weeks in his new home.

The former Liverpool CEO has moved from one famous music city to another, though he says the country music for which Nashville is famous is not new to him. He says his father, who listened to country music, spoon-fed it to him as a child growing up in England but he is surprised about the diversity of Nashville's music scene.

Sort of like the culture of the city itself, which makes it attractive as a soccer market.

Ayre, 55, has attended a Predators hockey game and met with Titans executive and loves  how the sports teams and other organizations have been welcoming -- something he says isn't always the case. He has also had two meetings with Nashville soccer supporters to learn about what they want the team to represent.

At a media roundtable before Tuesday's USA-Mexico game in Nashville, he gave an update on the team that he will run on both the soccer and business side. Most of the topics concerned the soccer side ...

GM hire. Ayre's priority is to have a general manager in place, and he hopes to have the process finished in the next 4-6 weeks.

“I’m pleased to say there have been some very good candidates," he said. "It’s always difficult to find somebody who ticks every box, but certainly found some great candidates who fit most of the profiles we’ve expected to find and narrowed that down to a short list, and in the middle of trying to complete that process.”

Ayre said he will consider everyone from Nashville SC, the first-year USL team, whether it is for the GM position, coaching staff or on the marketing side, but he said the key is finding candidates who fit the profiles of the jobs that need to be filled.

Early player signings. Most recent expansion teams have gotten a jump on the roster-building process in the year before their launch, ahead of the Expansion Draft, which has taken on less and less importance. Ayre said he would consider what FC Cincinnati has done -- dealing during the summer transfer window for Fanendo Adi and Fatai Alashe, both established players looking for a change.

“I think it’s definitely something to consider," he said, "and I think Cincinnati have come about it well this year. The value of bringing anybody in 2019, in our case, helps you with that 30-man roster for 2020. It absolutely would be on our radar. I couldn’t say when or how much, or to what extent at this stage. I think it’s a smart tactic."

Atlanta United model. Ayre would not comment on how close the Nashville team's spending would be to Atlanta United, which broke new territory under another EPL transplant -- former Tottenham executive Darren Eales -- with its Designated Player spending, but he said signing South American talent like Atlanta did in 2017 is something the new team must look at.

“One of the things I feel is very important is that we really start quite soon, in terms of our scouting and analysis right across the key markets,” he said. “There’s no question the South American markets have delivered real value to MLS and that’s something we’ll be very focused on. From my own experience and the experience of the people that we’ll hire, being able to connect with all those key markets is going to be essential."

Ownership commitment. Ayre said he'd likely never discuss publicly how much the Nashville ownership group is committed to spending but he did say that commitment was an important consideration in making the move.

"They didn’t just come to take part," he said. "They came here to compete, so I expect us to assemble a team on and off the pitch, and the facilities that go with it, to compete. What does that mean? It means we’ll take the budget that we’re allocated when we get to that and we’ll do the best we can do.”

Liverpool example. He used the example of Liverpool, which he left in February 2017.

"If you’re Liverpool," he said, "the budget wasn’t the same as Chelsea or Manchester City or Manchester United, but you don’t take that as being any lesser. You take it as you have to go and build something and compete with the budget that you’re working on. So, we’ll work hard, we’ll compete and I think we’ll create something that the people in Nashville can get behind and be excited about.”

Also ...

Ayre said the club will wait until the beginning of the year to announce the name of the Nashville team.

“Some of the reasoning behind that lends itself to what we’re already doing in the city," he said. "Not trying to create too much confusion around the period when our USL team is just going through its process for renewals for next year. We’ve been trying to mindful and respectful of that, and for the supporters as well we don’t create confusion. We’re confident we have the timing right and the execution for that. We’re not completely finished.”

No decision has been made on where Nashville's MLS team will play in 2020 while its 30,000-seat stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds is being built, but he said Nissan Stadium -- home of the Titans and site of the USA-Mexico game -- was "the obvious choice."

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