ayre smith sportsfest 104.5

Ayre, Smith Bring Soccer Message to Masses at 104.5 The Zone's Sportsfest


NASHVILLE – In the halls of the future temporary home of Nashville Soccer Club in Major League Soccer, Nashville SC’s MLS brass got the chance to show why soccer is ready to become an integral part of the Nashville sports scene at 104.5 The Zone’s SportsFest at Nissan Stadium.

CEO Ian Ayre and Head Coach Gary Smith spoke at a panel discussion hosted by 104.5’s Kevin Ingram and Jonathan Hutton, and they discussed Nashville SC’s plans for its move to MLS and how soccer can appeal to Nashville’s rabid sports fanbase deep in the heart of football country.

For fans of the Tennessee Titans in the NFL or the SEC’s Tennessee Volunteers, Smith and Ayre have some good reasons for those fans to come out and be a part of the soccer movement in Nashville.

“This is a football city, so we have to engage that audience,” Ayre said. “I think the difference, the fundamental difference between a football supporter and a soccer supporter is in our game, there’s more intensity in the game and more continuous play. And really, you’re asking the crowd to get involved. You’re not a spectator, you’re a participant. You see our games, you watch overseas games, the supporters are driving the atmosphere, the supporters are making up their own songs and chants, they bring their own flags and banners and it’s really about participation. it’s about creating the right show, creating the right energy, the right atmosphere, and getting people involved.”

Smith also thought the atmosphere of a match is the best way to attract a Nashville sports fan to the game of soccer, and the education on the ins and outs of the game will naturally follow.

“Does the atmosphere relate to what you’re about, do you fit into that?” Smith said. “Do you feel as though you’re a piece of that environment? In that given moment that you walk through the door, do you feel a connection? Is there something that you feel you want to come back and really get involved in it? Part of my job is going be to make sure the team is exciting and entertaining, so that when the fans do turn up, they want to come back. But ultimately, I think if you’re in a good social group, you’re watching something that’s exciting, over time you’ll certainly learn more about the game, but initially, do you feel some sort of hook that brings you back?”

The hosts brought up a number of typical complaints that they might hear from non-soccer fans about the game, primarily flopping and feigning injuries, ending matches in draws and the uncertain nature of stoppage time. Smith and Ayre addressed all three concerns and explained why they are part of the game of soccer, and even how they can be exciting for fans of the sport.

On draws, particularly 0-0 draws, Smith explained that level scorelines don’t always reflect the quality of the matches played.

“I don’t know many coaches, other than in very extreme circumstances, that don’t play to win,” Smith said. “I think there are too many things that go on in a game that are out of your control that don’t allow you to win a game and score goals. As long as I believe that each coach and team are working hard to try and win the game, you’re still going to see a very exciting game, and you can actually see some very good drawing games, whether it’s 0-0, 1-1, where both teams have been exceptionally exciting going forward, but unfortunately the forwards haven’t done their job.”

Ayre agreed, and pointed to tight standings races across the world of soccer as evidence for why draws matter in the long run.

“You look at the Premier League this year, you’ve got Liverpool and Manchester City neck and neck,” Ayre said. “That whole thing could end on a one-point difference, and that one point will come from a draw at some point in the season. So I think it’s the right fit for soccer. You can look at 0-0 as an outcome and think ‘why would I want to watch that?’ But you can be at those games that can be 50 shots on goal, brilliant saves, goalmouth incidents, all types of activity that really get the crowd excited, get the game going.”

Overall, Ayre is excited for what’s ahead for the club in a bustling and growing city like Nashville. His vision is for a club that is for all Nashvillians, whether they’ve just moved here or have been in town since Broadway was just a place to buy furniture.

“From my perspective, I think if you’re going to build a soccer team, you need the right place to build it, and I genuinely couldn’t think of anywhere that has more energy, more going on, more excitement, more people arriving daily, more companies coming that want to invest,” Ayre said. “What we want to try and build is something that all of those people, including Nashvillians that are from here and have been here, for everyone to kind of get behind it, build something that really is for everyone. I’ve been here nine months, and I could not think of anywhere better to build this team. I’m hugely excited by all of the feedback we’ve had, whether it’s the events we’ve done, initiatives we’ve put together, everything’s been hugely positive and the support has been phenomenal, both with our USL team and other activities. If that continues, I think it’s going to be absolutely incredible.”