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Burke assisting with tornado relief efforts

Featured Article

Planting Oak Trees With Titans President & CEO Burke Nihill

Article by Jennifer Bennhoff

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Franklin Lifestyle

Over the past two decades, Nashville evolved from a honky tonk village to an entertainment mecca, including in the world of sports. Key to this growth was in 1999 when the NFL's Houston Oilers' relocated to become the Tennessee Titans.

Many of the Titans' first fans were converts who switched allegiances and donned Titans colors in support of their hometown team. Their kids, raised under Titans banners, have grown into diehard fans. The franchise has become an indelible fixture in the community, and now Nashvillians are in for more excitement with the construction of a new stadium set to open in 2027.

Much of the momentum has been shepherded by Titans President & CEO – and Franklin resident - Burke Nihill. He calls the process “planting oak trees.” His mission statement for the team: “Win. Serve. Entertain.” “We want to have a winning team, we want to provide an entertaining experience for fans, and just as much, we want to be community leaders,” he says.

The Titans are a family business for Burke, his wife Holly and their three kids: Emma, 19, Jack, 17 and Chase, 14. The couple met at Illinois Wesleyan University and bonded over their love of competition. After their first date to a sorority formal, they each told friends they had found 'the one.' “He’s a lot of fun and so genuine,” Holly says. “I also love how intentional he is with everything he does.”
They married in 2002. Holly worked in account management at MetLife to support Burke through Chicago-Kent College of Law, and they started a family. His career grew and Chicago seemed to be their permanent home. Burke had grown up in the suburbs and dreamed of playing for the Cubs. He also played basketball, a bit of football, and was an avid spectator. His grandfather took him to his first ballgame, per Nihill family tradition.

As a lawyer, he built a reputation as a creative thinker. “If being a lawyer meant arguing, I wouldn’t be good at that,” he says. “I like peacemaking more than conflict. For me, becoming a lawyer meant being a problem-solver.”

The Nihills developed a fondness for Southern culture after spending a few months in Atlanta on a job assignment. Not long after, in 2016, a LinkedIn job posting popped up in Burke’s feed: Legal Counsel for the Tennessee Titans. They decided to go for it and to their surprise and delight, Burke was hired.

The team was ranked last in the league and hadn’t won a playoff game in 15 years, but things perked up with a playoff win during his second season. “We use the phrase ‘Tennessee Tough’ and it really resonates,” he says. “We have an organization full of talented individuals, sort of like a big locker room. As we figure out how to utilize each talent, we become a team better than the sum of its parts.” Holly describes the organization as a “family” and says it’s ideal how Burke’s passions - family and service - align with his work.

When the NFL draft became a traveling roadshow, Nihill was asked by Titans owner Amy Adams Strunk to make a pitch for Nashville to host. “The NFL wanted to bring the draft to cities that naturally do live events well,” he says. “We put our hat in the ring with the expectation of being frontrunners, and we won.”

Over three days in 2019, 600,000 people gathered downtown, resulting in a huge international presence and economic impact. “The draft hit it out of the park for Nashville, the NFL and the Titans,” says Nihill, “and we’ve continued building on that momentum.”

He credits his mentors, including former Titans President/CEO Steve Underwood, for encouraging him to develop his skillset beyond the legal realm. Nihill was elevated to his current position upon Underwood's retirement in 2020. Since becoming CEO, Nihill has overseen the new Nissan Stadium project and brought to life the 'Win, Serve, Entertain' motto.

The new Nissan Stadium is one of the most exciting things to happen to Nashville since, well, ever. “When you look at recently built stadiums, they’re shiny, they’re opulent, they’re beautiful for what they’re trying to accomplish,” he says. “But Nashville doesn’t go by the script. Nashville is a town built by makers, built by creators. It has a soul.”

Nihill’s vision for the stadium is inspired by the most soulful auditorium of all, the Ryman. “The detail, character and history of the Ryman is unmatched, and what happens inside the building is even more important.” He says the new Nissan Stadium won’t be “fake old,” but the creators have designed a Tennessee-style, significant, Ryman-esque entertainment venue. A 3-D model depicts an architectural wonder with historic flourishes. A roof will allow events to continue in climate-controlled comfort, and a permanent
stage, modeled after The Ryman's, will evoke an authentic Music City vibe during national anthem and halftime performances. A large park will span to the Cumberland River, and the stadium’s outdoor wraparound bars will encourage guests to experience a traditional Nashville rooftop hangout.

“We didn’t want a building where people just go inside,” Nihill explains. “We’re uniquely positioned to blend both a music capital and a sports capital into one entertainment center.” The east bank will also feature a town center with affordable places to live, small businesses, riverfront promenades and a transit hub. “Some say our city turned its back on the river. That will change with this
project," says Nihill.

Service is at the heart of everything Nihill and his family believe in. For the Titans, it means living up to the slogan, “I believe in Nashville.” “We appreciate the stewardship that entails,” he says. “It’s not only about delivering great football, although we’re focused on that, and it’s not just about stadium events. It’s using our platform to represent what’s always been great about this city, and that’s service and generosity. Nashville has a giving heritage and we want to bring that forward to the next generation.”

This generosity extends to Williamson County and throughout the state. When Nihill realized an opportunity for girls to play flag football in Williamson County, the Titans backed the program. Flag football has grown to include Metro schools and districts across Middle Tennessee. Holly says that playing football was “magical” for daughter Emma and her teammates. “The girls grew up watching boys play football and when they got to put on jerseys and play, it made them love and understand the game even more.”

The Titans’ community impact program, “ONE Community,” focuses on underserved populations in the areas of Opportunity, Neighborhoods and Education. Since 2018, the Titans have served 135 organizations through investment, programming and partnership. “We listen around the community for challenges and see where we can make a difference,” says Nihill. Holly says she’s grateful for the way their family has been embraced since moving to the area.

“We live in a dreamy town,” she says. “We considered moving closer to Burke’s office, but we’re in love with our neighborhood and the Grassland community.”

The family hosts a weekly “microchurch” in their home through Local Church, founded by Pastor Chris Brooks. “Because of our football schedule and kids’ sports schedules, it was hard to attend Sunday meetings. Now we host church with other football families. We study scripture, share a meal, get to know each other and serve one another.”

The Nihills say they’ve planted roots in Franklin and don’t plan to leave. “We’ve been fortunate with Burke’s job, our friends, the schools and activities. We want to stay here and give back to the community however we can," says Holly.

And with Burke Nihill’s vision, the Titans’ bright future, and opportunities to improve quality of life, Middle Tennesseans have lots to look forward to.

  • The Nihill Family
  • Burke with Metro students
  • Burke assisting with tornado relief efforts