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Volume 23 No. 8
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Best Sports City: Nashville

The NFL draft fit in nicely along a packed entertainment district.
Photo: getty images
The NFL draft fit in nicely along a packed entertainment district.
Photo: getty images
The NFL draft fit in nicely along a packed entertainment district.
Photo: getty images

Nashville has had major pro sports since the Houston Oilers arrived in 1997, and it added the NHL’s Predators in 1998.

The city is still waiting for its first championship, but it is already clear that when the history of sports in Tennessee’s capital city is written, there will be two chapters: Before the 2019 NFL draft, and after. Over three days in April, the city reset the standard for major events, drawing a stunning 600,000 fans to the streets of Lower Broadway to party and watch the NFL pick its next crop of stars.

On screen and online, writers and commentators told the world about the fun they were having sampling the food, the music and the football. Far larger cities have hosted the draft, but Nashville changed the way it will be viewed for years to come by debuting new ideas like a music stage that will influence planning for all future drafts.

Here’s the amazing part: It wasn’t even the only event in town that weekend. The draft shared the city with the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, adding another 30,000 runners and their fans to the already crowded city. And there were few reports of overcrowding or disorder.

600,000

Fans in attendance at the 2019 NFL draft, a record for the event

“The city was able to operate all of that,” said Titans President Steve Underwood. “I’m not saying they weren’t breathing hard, but they were pulling it off, and they pulled it off very successfully. When you can have two very large events in the same weekend, and most everyone thinks it was done very successfully, it breeds more interest in other events.”

In 2019, Nashville secured a long-term extension to its hosting rights for the SEC basketball tournament, new commitments from the SEC and Big Ten to send teams to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championship and the 2021 SEC football media days. This month, NASCAR brought its awards show and end-of-season festivities to Nashville for the first time.

The Titans and Predators have made playoff runs in the past decade, and the city will add a new sport with Nashville SC making its MLS debut next season.

Over the years, Underwood said, the live music scene — every bar in downtown has an act most nights — has come together with a rising restaurant industry, 35,000 hotel rooms and multiple secondary entertainment districts to create a social destination. The city’s natural advantages of being centrally located, affordable and not too big also help. Underwood sees it firsthand at Nissan Stadium, where it’s always more than just a game to the visitors.

“Virtually every time a team comes here, they bring a large complement of sponsors,” Underwood said. “They do that because they know they can count on Nashville to deliver a great experience in addition to a great football game.”