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Nashville Set To Hit The World Stage In Sports

Article by Jennifer Bennhoff

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Franklin Lifestyle

In 1992, then-Nashville-mayor Phil Bredesen saw potential in the city that few could envision. At the time, Nashville was known for country music and not much else. Lower Broadway was quiet and tourists were few. Mayor Bredesen knew Nashville had more to offer but without arenas to host sporting events and concerts, people had to travel to Murfreesboro to attend any sort of big event. Mayor Bredesen had the idea to build an arena in the heart of downtown and bring energy and entertainment to the city. His bold thinking, and his forming of the Nashville Sports Council, set the stage for the vibrant, beloved Nashville we enjoy today.

“The Nashville Sports Council was originally part of the Chamber of Commerce,” explains Aldo Amato, Director of Marketing and Strategic Initiatives, “with a mission to recruit, maintain and operate sports events in Nashville. We’re a community connector between sports and businesses.”

Construction of the Bridgestone Arena – then called “Nashville Arena” – happened to fall at an exciting time. Soon after the groundbreaking, the Houston Oilers NFL team announced it was moving to Nashville. That called for a stadium, which the mayor and his team also wanted to keep downtown. Fortunately for sports and music enthusiasts, both the arena and the stadium – now called Nissan Stadium – were approved by voters. By 1998, Nashville was home to two major league teams: The Nashville Predators and the former Houston Oilers, now called the Tennessee Titans.

Today, in addition to college teams, Nashville also has GEODIS Park, home to the Nashville Soccer Club, and First Horizon Park, where the Nashville Sounds, a Triple A baseball affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers, play. “Something that’s unique about the Nashville sports market is how all of the teams work together instead of against each other,” says Aldo. “That’s a huge asset.”

When the Predators made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2017, not only was Bridgestone full, but over 100,000 fans lined the streets outside. “Another example is when the Titans were on the cusp of a Super Bowl berth a couple of years ago,” says Aldo, “and the other sports teams rallied around them. The teams are all connected, and that’s how we view our organization beyond providing volunteers and helping with the marketing of sports events.”

The Nashville Sports Council hosts three core events each year, in addition to other events that coincide with what’s happening in the local sports scene. The TransPerfect Music City Bowl began in 1998 and is played every December at Nissan Stadium. “We have an exclusive contract with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) and the Big Ten, so each year two teams from those conferences are represented in that game,” says Aldo. The bowl was organized to bring activity to Nashville during the once-slow tourist season between Christmas and New Year’s. For the first game, Alabama played Virginia Tech and the weather was freezing and sleeting. Still, attendees had so much fun, the bowl continued to grow and is now a favorite of football fans.

The St. Jude Rock n’ Roll Running Series Nashville is a two-day event held each spring with a marathon, half-marathon, 10k, 5k and other runs (including a doggie dash) through the city’s streets. “We provide hundreds of volunteers to make this event run smoothly and we’re always looking for people to help out,” says Aldo.

The Sports Council also helps manage the annual SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament being held at Bridgestone through at least 2035 and provides volunteers and marketing for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.

One of the more popular divisions of the Nashville Sports Council is its Women in Sports Initiative, a vibrant and inclusive community where fans and athletes of all backgrounds come together to increase the visibility of women in sports. These coaches, athletes and teams hope to inspire other women to follow in their footsteps. The Initiative is spearheaded by Aldo and the Council’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Monica McConnaughey, and chaired by Sheila Gibson, Assistant VP of Acquisitions and Divestitures in the information and technology services group at HCA.

Every October, the Women in Sports Initiative hosts a Tip-Off Breakfast at First Horizon Park. The event brings local college women’s basketball players and coaches together and provides a way for those programs to preview their seasons. “We’re thankful to our community partners for helping us put on this event because it really has become the staple of our Initiative,” says Aldo.

“This year, in the NCAA Tournament, Middle Tennessee State University upset Louisville, and the earlier Tip-Off event provided up-close access to the MTSU coach, Rick Insell, the players and the program that’s making a national name for itself. Belmont did the same thing last year.”

The Initiative also played a major role in the 2022 SEC Women’s Basketball Tournament, a postseason event held at Bridgestone Arena. 

2022 also marked the 50th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal civil rights law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in any education program, including sports, that receives federal funding. “We were heavily involved in events surrounding the celebration of Title IX,” says Aldo, “and also that year we held a Women in Motorsports event featuring female drivers, pit crews and operators from the Grand Prix.”

The Women in Sports Initiative has continued adding events to its yearly calendar, including panel discussions, the “HBCU Through Her Eyes” content series spotlighting women from area historically black colleges and universities, and celebrations surrounding the annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. For instance, on May 14, the public is welcome to participate in the Nashville Sports Council golf tournament at Gaylord Springs.

“Before I moved here,” Aldo says, “I thought Nashville was just honky tonks and cowboy hats. Instead, we have spectator sports happening all year and we still have a small-town feel.” 

Nashville sports fans have much to look forward to in upcoming years. The new Nissan Stadium, set to open in 2027, will be operational in all kinds of weather. “The new stadium will take Nashville, which is already on a big stage, to a much larger one,” says Aldo.

As of this year, the Nashville Sports Council’s economic impact on the city is over $1 billion, with over 600 viewership hours and over five million spectators. “Nashville is used to being on music stages, and we want to be on the
biggest stages in sports as well,” says Aldo. Will we host a Super Bowl in Nashville soon, or, dare we say it, an
Olympics? “That’s a great question,” he laughs. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed.” 

Women In Sports, A Nashville Sports Council Initiative 

The Nashville Sports Council's Women in Sports Initiative is deeply committed to championing and shining a spotlight on women's athletics, celebrating the legacy of Title IX and so much more. Achieving these goals requires collaboration and support from the community. That's why we invite you to be a part of our initiative. If you share our passion for women in sports and believe in the power of equality and opportunity, there are numerous ways to get involved. Whether you're interested in hosting events, contributing to marketing efforts, or have other ideas to help us further our mission, please reach out at