Growth sells in Nashville
How’s this for starting from scratch?
In 1995, Scott Ramsey left his post as USA Gymnastics’ director of event marketing in his native Indianapolis and relocated to oversee the nascent Nashville Sports Council, a nonprofit created to attract sporting events to a downtown that had no major league teams, a rising crime rate and facilities that were seen by event operators across the country as being incapable of hosting big-time competitions.
On Ramsey’s first day on the job, the NSC’s staff size officially doubled.
Today, what began with a $50,000 investment from the city has grown into a 14-employee operation with an annual budget of approximately $11 million to $12 million, three (soon to be four) world-class venues and a jam-packed calendar.
The first event under Ramsey’s watch was the 1997 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held primarily at the now-Bridgestone Arena just a few weeks after the venue opened. It was by far the most prestigious sporting event the city had ever hosted, and helped spark the revitalization the region was hoping for.
What is now Nissan Stadium is an example of that revitalization. The stadium opened in 1999 after voters approved construction funding that helped lure the Houston Oilers to town.
The stadium is also home to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, which is set up as a separate nonprofit organization under the chamber of commerce, but shares the same 14-person staff as the NSC. Ramsey has been the bowl’s executive director since it began in 1998. The bowl committee’s growth mirrors that of the city’s sports evolution: It generated $9.5 million in revenue in 2016, up nearly fivefold since its first year, and team payouts have gone from $750,000 for each school to a total of $5.7 million last year.
The NSC’s wins include:
• 2014 NCAA Women’s Final Four
• 2016 NHL All-Star Game
• 2019 NFL draft
• SEC men’s basketball tournament for six of the next seven years and women’s tournament in 2022 and 2026.
The city also boasts the Class AAA Nashville Sounds’ 10,000-seat First Tennessee Park that opened in 2015, and in 2020 will be home to a new MLS stadium. All the venues are publicly owned.
Ramsey credits Nashville’s successes to stable corporate and individual membership bases that share a common goal.
“The makeup of the NSC is chamber-esque,” he said. “We have 600-800 paying members and a database of more than 10,000 potential event-day volunteers who each see the benefits of attracting events to Nashville. The events that we attract obviously generate revenue, but the members also realize that the city’s reputation has improved through the increase in media exposure.”
That exposure appears to be paying dividends: 14.5 million people visited the region last year, an increase of 70 percent over 2008, according to the chamber of commerce.
Additionally, the market’s population grew 45 percent from 2000 to 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and is projected to reach 2 million in 2020.
Ramsey said equally important is that the region’s residents have a “dramatically better feeling” about the downtown area.
None of that growth surprises Ramsey.
“I came down here for a two- to 2 1/2-year guaranteed position. Twenty-three years later …”